Chelsea supplied the latest in a season of title-race twists, knocking Manchester City off the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.
Defender Branislav Ivanovic scored the only goal in the first half for Chelsea, who became the first Premier League side to take points off Manchester City at the Etihad this season.
Chelsea hit the woodwork three times in search of a decisive second goal, while City came close in the closing stages via substitute Stevan Jovetic's curling effort.
The result leaves both Chelsea and City on 53 points, two behind leaders Arsenal. All three have topped the table this season, and with 14 matches remaining, the title race is shaping up to be the tightest in years.
Both teams continue their Premier League campaigns on Saturday. Manchester City travel to Norwich City, while Chelsea host Newcastle United. Arsenal play at fourth-placed Liverpool the same day, meaning another shakeup at the top of the table could be possible as early as this weekend.
Old Trafford. The Emirates. The Etihad. Three away games, three perfect (and different) tactical gameplans. Quite brilliant from Mourinho.— Alex Dimond (@alexdimond) February 3, 2014
FT 0-1 #cfc Fantastic away performance from Chelsea. Perfect blend of stoic defending and counter-attacking verve.— James Olley (@JamesOlley) February 3, 2014
Great reminder from #CFC tonight of their qualities. High skill, togetherness, work ethic. Hazard the pick but so strong all-round— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) February 3, 2014
Both Chelsea and City entered Monday's match in impressive form in the league. Before the match, Manchester City had won eight straight league matches, while Chelsea were unbeaten in their last eight, winning six.
Manchester City's Fernandinho missed the match with a "muscle strain," per @premierleague. He was replaced in midfield by Martin Demichelis, a centre-back by trade, while Matija Nastasic came into the side in defence. Manager Manuel Pellegrini made two further changes, introducing defender Aleksandar Kolarov and striker Alvaro Negredo for Gael Clichy and the injured Sergio Aguero, respectively.
Chelsea had been held to a scoreless draw by relegation-threatened West Ham last time out, a result that led manager Jose Mourinho to decry what he called the Hammers' "19th-century" tactics. But heading to the Eithad, where City had previously maintained a 100 percent league record this season, Mourinho selected what might have been mistaken for a defensive lineup.
David Luiz and Nemanja Matic came into the side as defensive midfielders, replacing John Obi Mikel and Oscar. Ramires, another defensive-minded midfielder, also started alongside attackers Willian and Eden Hazard.
But instead of merely defending, Chelsea immediately displayed a willingness to attack. City, however, created the first moment of danger in the 10th minute as Kolarov came within inches of picking out Yaya Toure at the back post with a cross from the left.
City had another chance eight minutes later when Toure powered through Chelsea's box before pulling back for David Silva. But the Spaniard dragged his shot just wide of the far post.
Chelsea came even closer in the 27th minute as Willian led a quick counter-attack in City's half. With three teammates running free, Willian passed to Ramires, whose curled shot was saved by Joe Hart.
It turned out to be a warning sign for City. Five minutes later, Chelsea were ahead.
There seemed to be little danger when Ramires' shot was blocked, but the ball rolled out to an unmarked Ivanovic just outside the box. From there, the full-back rifled a low shot into the bottom corner for a 1-0 Chelsea lead in the 32nd minute.
City looked rattled, and Chelsea came close again as Hazard forced a save from Joe Hart with a low shot at the near post in the 36th minute. Six minutes later, Manchester City's Edin Dzeko did well to control a corner inside Chelsea's box, but blasted his shot over the bar.
Chelsea came close again just before halftime, as Eto'o hit the bar with his first-time shot after being set up by Hazard's cross.
Leading 1-0 at halftime, Chelsea weren't content to sit back after the break. Willian had a shot blocked in the 49th minute, and Matic struck the woodwork with a long-range effort four minutes later.
Pellegrini introduced Stevan Jovetic for Negredo in the 57th minute as City searched for an equaliser. But Chelsea hit the woodwork 10 minutes later for a third time as Cahill met a Willian corner with a powerful header.
City intensified their pressure, and Cahill had to clear from in front of his own goalmouth following Dzeko's mis-hit shot in the 67th minute. Six minutes later, Petr Cech tipped over Silva's curling free-kick from just outside the box.
Kolarov set up Silva in the 75th minute with a cross from the left, but Silva bounced his shot wide of the post. Chelsea were nearly safe, but Cech had to be alert in stoppage time to push away Jovetic's curling shot.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho: "We played fantastic against a fantastic team & beaten the best team in the #BPL twice. This was very important"— Premier League (@premierleague) February 3, 2014
Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "For Chelsea it was a decisive game, for us it was an important one. We're still within 2pts of Arsenal"— Premier League (@premierleague) February 3, 2014
|Stevan Jovetic (for Negredo, 57')||N/A||6|
|Oscar (for Eto'o, 83')||N/A||6|
|John Obi Mikel (for Willian, 90')||N/A||6|
|Demba Ba (for Hazard, 90')||N/A||6|