Manchester City's win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge looks to have finally broken the "Top Four" dominion in the Premier League.
All the attention may have been on John Terry and Wayne Bridge, but the match between Manchester City and Chelsea may well be remembered for different reasons altogether. City condemned Chelsea to defeat at home for the first time all season and may have marked the end of the "Top Four" era in England.
The Citizens' victory was all the more impressive, considering that this was no fluke result that was achieved by a deflected goal or a horrendous goalkeeping mistake. This was a win earned through the great efforts of the team and individuals as a whole.
Roberto Mancini was rumored to be on the brink of an exit following the midweek FA Cup exit at the hands of Stoke City. But this triumph should have bought him time at least until the end of the season.
Chelsea on the other hand will be left contemplating their next move as their defence has been decimated by injuries and a captain who is clearly struggling to regain his focus. John Terry has now made three major errors in the Blues last four games and Carlo Ancelotti will surely be starting to worry.
Carlos Tevez's fantastic return from Argentina following his family issues has enabled City to return to Manchester with renewed confidence and vigor. The Sky Blues sit three points clear of fifth placed Tottenham, and should they continue this afternoon's showing, they are likely to be England's fourth entrant into the Champions League.
Such an outcome will definitively bring down the curtain on what has recently become a four horse race, and hopefully crush all plans for the playoff system in the Premier League.
End of An Era
It had all started with Roman Abramovich's takeover at Chelsea in the summer of 2003, and it seems to have come to end in the Russian's own backyard. For the past five seasons, no team has managed to shackle away fourth spot from either Arsenal or Liverpool.
Everton were the last non-Big Four side to finish in the Champions League bracket back in 2005. However, their European hopes were dashed in the preliminary stage by Villarreal and Liverpool were famously allowed into the competition as they were the title holders.
Tottenham were the last team to mount a serious challenge for the gloried prize, succumbing the place to Arsenal on the last day of the season. Since then, however, the gap between the fourth placed side and the fifth placed side has only widened.
For the two seasons preceding this one the gap was a massive nine points and in the 2006/07 championship it was eight points. This year it is unlikely that the gap may be any more than a point or two at best.
City may not be everyone's favourite club, as they are perceived to have built their team only out of their owner's benevolence. But nonetheless, a toppling of the Big Four will definitely bring a few cheers to the frustrated fans.
Furthermore, there is always the possibility that Tottenham or even Aston Villa may qualify for Europe's premier tournament and such competition is only healthy for the league. City's win was not the first time a giant was upset at home as earlier this season Villa recorded a win over United at Old Trafford.
Credit to Mancini
There has been a lot of criticism this week directed towards Roberto Mancini's handling of his team. Many pundits described his "anti-football" tactics as the reason for City's poor form which saw them exit from the League Cup and the FA Cup.
However, the Italian has done remarkably well to turn things around at City in a short space of time. Under him the Citizens have won six, drawn two, and lost two games in the Premier League compared to their return of seven wins, eight draws, and two losses under Mark Hughes.
Last weekend against Liverpool it was more important that City didn't drop direct points over their rivals than for them to extend the gap; hence Mancini's decision to be ultra-defensive is understandable.
The Sky Blues have a relatively easy set of fixtures coming up as they take on Sunderland, Fulham, Wigan, and Burnley in their immediate fixtures.
Liverpool will also be playing three of these sides in the course of the next six rounds; hence, it will be important for Mancini to get favourable results.
Regardless of how this race for the fourth spot turns out at the end, it essentially looks like from this year the term "Big Four" will be confined to the annals of history.