February 2nd was Groundhog Day. For Manchester City, February 3rd was the complete opposite.
For the vast majority of City’s previous 11 home league games this season, the club’s fans must felt like Bill Murray waking up in Punxsutawney at 6 a.m. to the sound of Sonny & Cher singing “I Got You Babe” on the radio. Liverpool and Crystal Palace put up good fights on their visits to the Etihad Stadium between Christmas and New Year, but that was about it. Everything else felt the same.
Enter Chelsea, Jose Mourinho and the kind of tactical performance that has the potential to be talked about for years. By Mourinho himself mainly, but still.
There is no escaping the facts for City and Manuel Pellegrini as they wake up on February 4th.
They were outfought, outthought and outfoxed by Mourinho’s Chelsea on Monday night, as the hosts waved goodbye to that once-proud home dominance and also missed the chance to equal a club record that had stood since 1912, the year the Titanic sank.
It was back then that a City team last achieved nine league victories in a row, with this run stopping at eight as they hit an iceberg from West London that had no intention of letting them pass.
This was supposed to be a stoic, defensive Chelsea performance that would see the visitors set out their stall at the Etihad and defend for their lives in the manner that the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton had all hoped to do earlier in the season. All lost through a mixture of either not being good enough or just being overwhelmed, conceding a combined 19 goals in the process.
Of course circumstances were against City here, with two of their stellar performers both ruled out due to injury.
The absence of Sergio Aguero was already common knowledge before the game, but in Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic City have striking talents that would be the envy of most teams on the planet. The same can’t be said in defensive midfield.
In losing Fernandinho for this clash, Pellegrini lost a key cog in what has frequently been a winning machine, handing the advantage to a man who thrives on exploiting the weakness he sees in the opposition. Mourinho was never going to let this chance pass.
But it’s gone now, as has Pellegrini’s opportunity to enter the weekend on top of the Premier League table. It is now what he does with that weekend that counts for City.
They’ll be spending it at Norwich City’s Carrow Road, facing opponents they overwhelmed 7-0 back at the beginning of November in the most convincing of those Groundhog Day-type Etihad performances. Saturday’s clash has to be seen as far more important than that though.
With Arsenal facing a tough clash at Liverpool and City’s vastly superior goal difference almost acting as an extra point they’ve got on Chelsea, this loss doesn’t have to be as damaging as many made it out to be on Monday evening.
For that to be the case though, Pellegrini will have to show that he is a reactive manager as well as just a very good one with star players at his disposal.
Aguero and Fernandinho are still going to be absent in East Anglia, and so after Dzeko and Negredo failed to click against Chelsea—the duo appeared to be playing in spite of each other, not as a partnership—then why not be brave and throw Jovetic in for only a second-ever Premier League start?
While he’s at it, the Chilean could pitch Jack Rodwell in from the beginning for just the second time in the league this season too. The ex-Everton man was on the bench against Chelsea and might just freshen things up in the centre in place of Martin Demichelis, frequently a fish out of water on Monday.
Those are relatively minor tweaks, but they signify that City don’t need to rip up everything that has got them this far this season just yet. They just need to win at Norwich and restore a sense of normality to things.
So much so that when Sunderland come calling in the next home game a week on Wednesday, it’s 6 a.m. in Punxsutawney again and the first bars of “I Got You Babe” are ringing out.