Manchester City vs. Chelsea: 6 Things We Learned
Chelsea struck a huge blow in the title race with a highly energetic, composed performance in beating Manchester City 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night.
Branislav Ivanovic's crisply struck shot in the first half proved to be the difference between the two sides on the scoresheet, but Chelsea ultimately deserved the victory due to being vastly superior to their opponents all over the pitch, as City's run of 11 straight Premier League victories at home was brought to a shuddering halt.
Samuel Eto'o, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill all hit the woodwork as Chelsea shocked many by attacking with far more intensity than had been imagined, with Eden Hazard and Willian both starring and breaking forward at will.
City were left to rue a disappointing night, one that they'll be keen to move on from as soon as possible.
Here are six lessons learned from the heavyweight clash.
Jose Mourinho Does Have Another Way of Playing Away
Forget the defensive displays at Manchester United and Arsenal earlier this season which had Chelsea's bus driver leaving his feet up on the dashboard and his vehicle left stationary—this was a different away-day performance.
Right from the start, the Blues midfield choked the life out of a home side which had been so obviously dominant on their own patch this season, Chelsea simply making the most of the fact that there were more of them in the middle third than there were City players, who suffered for the fact that they left two forwards up the pitch.
The surges from midfield from the increasingly important Willian and the effervescent Eden Hazard were hallmarks of this display, and in hitting the woodwork three times through Samuel Eto'o, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill, plus also coming close through Ramires in the first half, Chelsea could easily have added to Branislav Ivanovic's solitary goal.
The away side were excellent here and fully deserved both their win and their huge blow struck in the title race.
Fernandinho's Are Big Shoes to Fill
Jack Rodwell was on the City bench here, but instead of playing a specialist—albeit rarely seen—central midfielder in the absence of the injured Fernandinho, Manuel Pellegrini opted to pitch Martin Demichelis into the centre of things, a role that admittedly he has performed in matches against much lesser opposition of late.
He actually started quite well, but the more intensity Chelsea added to their game in the first half, the more the Argentinean struggled.
This was never more evident than when he was outmuscled by Eden Hazard in the build-up to Branislav Ivanovic's goal, and after that, his frequent sloppiness almost allowed Chelsea in for a second before the break.
Fernandinho is the sort of player who you only really notice when he's not there, and City found that out to their cost in the first half.
Chelsea Were Right to Bring Nemanja Matic Back
With the honourable exception of their opponents here, Chelsea's decision to shell out £21 million on a player they had discarded for next to nothing three years earlier would have been met with a loud snort of derision had it been done by any other team.
They can afford such extravagances, though, and in Nemanja Matic, they have certainly brought in much more than just a mere squad player.
The Serb was excellent here, dominating matters in the centre of the pitch and striding around as though he'd racked up 150-plus games for Chelsea over the past three years and wasn't stationed in Lisbon with Benfica.
He seems to naturally bring that authority to his game, and if that is what was developed in his three years away from the club, then it might well be £21 million well spent.
Edin Dzeko Doesn't Thrive in the Spotlight
With Sergio Aguero out injured, Alvaro Negredo nursing a shoulder complaint and Stevan Jovetic still adjusting to English football following his long absence, this was a time and a game for Edin Dzeko to come to the fore. He didn't manage it.
Too often, the Bosnian was wayward in possession and clumsy with the ball at his feet, snatching at chances that came his way and failing to show any form of link-up play with partner Negredo.
It was surely only because the Spaniard has had that recent shoulder complaint that he departed before Dzeko did, but the former Wolfsburg man was poor on a night when his club really needed him to perform for them.
Eden Hazard Will Be in the Conversation for Player of the Year
Gareth Bale won both the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards at the age of 23 last season, and at this rate, Eden Hazard might well be joining him in doing the double.
Just 23 last month, if players of Hazard's age can win the latter award, then he should take that one hands down, and he might just find that circumstances dictate he can land the former one too.
Plenty would consider the gong to be a straight fight between Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez this season, but injuries have hit Aguero at an inopportune time—as City discovered again to their cost here—whilst whatever previous ill feeling players could have had toward Suarez won't have been helped by him making fools of them all season.
Regardless of personal awards, though, it'll be team glory that Hazard will prize the most, and on this form, he could well inspire Chelsea to hit the heights.
Norwich Are About to Feel a Backlash
Chris Hughton will have been watching events unfold at the Etihad Stadium with hands over his eyes.
The Norwich manager must now be dreading sending his players out onto the Carrow Road pitch on Saturday afternoon, when they'll be facing a Manchester City side newly motivated following on from this desperately disappointing evening.
Norwich have already been on the receiving end of a seven-goal hammering by Manuel Pellegrini's men earlier this season, and when City's players head back into training on Tuesday afternoon, they'll be focused on delivering a similar result.
Pellegrini—who might be wise to give Stevan Jovetic a start at the weekend—will demand nothing less.