Manchester City might be out of every major tournament bar one in 2013 and 12 points behind rivals Manchester United in the Premier League title race, but for 90 minutes against one of the premier clubs in Europe, the Citizens showed just how dominant they can be.
At their best, there was never any doubting that the City were a tough team to beat—particularly when playing in front of their home fans at the Etihad Stadium.
But this year, with mixed form, inconsistency at the back and a number of key injuries, the defending English champions were not as good as years gone by. Especially not compared to last year, when they broke their 44-year drought with a thrilling league title on the final day of action.
What City showed for 90 minutes against Chelsea was not the same team that had gone winless through their last three heading into this match.
What they demonstrated here was not what they had shown against Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup, let alone the likes of Ajax and Real Madrid in the Champions League. The attacking tentativeness wasn't there at all—replaced by a direct, free-flowing running at defenders, that allowed the Sky Blues to attack their opponents from every possible angle on the pitch.
For 90 minutes this weekend in the Premier League, City played as if they were 15 points clear on top of the table, cruising for back-to-back premierships. They played as if they were the ones still alive in every major competition and tearing up the league; they played as if their attack was the potent and volatile offensive weapon that teams around the league feared.
And the result showed on the scoreboard for Roberto Mancini's men.
Without captain and star defender Vincent Kompany, City had not beaten their opponents on the day but completely dominated the entire match. From attack to defense, midfield to the wings—City were the better team in every department and left the Blues with no answers at either end of the pitch.
City should have led by two or three goals heading into halftime, with Sergio Aguero and Jack Rodwell missing key chances, whilst Petr Cech made a number of good saves. Particularly from set pieces, the Czech international goalkeeper came up big for the Blues and held a clean sheet heading into the interval—seemingly giving his team hope of achieving a result in this one.
But there would be no denying City's dominant attack, which broke through the Blues defense just after the hour mark through star midfielder Yaya Toure.
The playmaker dazzled his way through the box and finished with a sumptuous curling shot that avoided Gary Cahill and a flailing Cech to find the back of the net. City had a completely deserved lead and would not drop off with that lead in hand either.
Carlos Tevez would double their lead before full time with a blistering shot from outside the box, with City continuing to beat their opponents right across the field.
Fortunately for Rafa Benitez's men, the final whistle would end their heartache, and City would be declared the clear victors from their heavyweight clash.
They had not knocked Chelsea out; rather, they had forced them into submission. And the Blues had no other option than to comply.
For that 90-minute interval this weekend, Manchester City seemed like the world-champion team we know that they can be at any given opportunity. Their defense was rock solid, their midfield was on the same page, and their attack was creating chances like Fernando Torres does headlines.
Chelsea would finish with just two shots on target for the match; City would have have five and have four more attempts blocked by the Blues' defense. Moreover, they would create several chances right throughout the match, with Cahill and Ivanovic forced to come up big on a number of times for the reigning European champions.
Otherwise it would have been 5-0.
Frank Lampard obviously had the best chance for the Blues to break the deadlock when his penalty attempt was saved by Joe Hart, but there was an underlying feeling that Chelsea really didn't deserve the opportunity that was gifted to them by the referee.
They had been highly favored in the foul count (receiving 15 more free kicks for the match), and Demba Ba had received minimal contact from Hart en route to his theatrical fall and penalty appeal. Perhaps it was a twist of fate that Lampard would not get his 200th goal for the London club here.
It was hardly a deserved goal for the Blues to net.
Manchester City had just been that good throughout the entire match and would continue to do the same, so it seemed only fitting that they emerge the victors.
Which, after 90 minutes of play and one of the most complete performances seen in the English Premier League this season, they did.
City all over Chelsea like a sky blue rash.— James Dall (@JamesDallESPN) February 24, 2013
City fans will be no doubt rejoicing in the win but also wondering where it has been all season. Had they played like this, the title race could be different, the Champions League could be different—their season and the prospect of success in 2013 could well be different as well.
And whilst they'd stand justified to make those comments, they'd also do well to heed the example provided by their team this weekend and remain silent.
For 90 minutes, City seemingly forgot about the title race and all that's taken place this season and just played the attacking, dominant football we know they can.
For 90 minutes, they forgot about catching Manchester United, ending their winless streak and keeping Roberto Mancini's job safe, and they just played football.
And the results spoke for themselves.
City proved that they are still a completely classy team in England and will be one of the biggest title and competition threats in the next decade of football.
They might not do so this year—that is seemingly all wrapped up for United—but they will do so in the future if they play like they did against Chelsea this week.
Questions will be asked about whether this is the end for Benitez at Chelsea, and why the Blues were completely dominated in this match. Those are good and right, but they are no the focus of the story, much like Chelsea were not the focus of their clash in the Premier League this weekend.
Chelsea were merely pedestrians to the world-class football City can play at their best and were simply fortunate enough to witness it first-hand for themselves.
The table gap from first to second still sits at 12 points this year; Manchester City proved here that in reality, there isn't a gap at the top of the table at all.
Just one between them, United and the rest of the English Premier League.
At least when they play their best, anyway.
What did you make of the Citizens' big win against Chelsea?
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