Before the match, Roberto Mancini piled the pressure onto Chelsea by suggesting that they should stroll to the title this season. Whether he really believed that or not, the result this afternoon will put Manchester City right back in the frame for the title.
Until today, Chelsea had been sweeping aside all sides in their wake. However, people had been suggesting that the fixture list had been kind to them and they had not faced a realistic challenge. The first real threat came today as they traveled to Eastlands to face the big spending Manchester City.
Despite the sums of money that they have spent over the past couple of years, City faced a defensive crisis ahead of the match, with Aleksandr Kolarov, Wayne Bridge, and Micah Richards all ruled out, and Joleon Lescott and Jerome Boateng only fit enough for a spot on the bench. Chelsea were without the injured trio of Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou, and Yossi Benayoun.
It was a high quality game between two top quality sides. Carlos Tevez’s goal was enough to give them the three points, although Chelsea had the odd opportunity to grab an equaliser. However, Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany in the centre of the defence were magnificent, as was Nigel De Jong protecting the two of them.
Didier Drogba had a disappointing afternoon against this background, so much so that he was replaced by Daniel Sturridge. Although given they were chasing the game, removing Drogba from the pitch was a bizarre decision.
One thing that will worry Chelsea fans will be the strength of their bench compared to Manchester City, who has the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Adam Johnson, Jo, and Patrick Vieira as options to try and change the game. Chelsea has Yury Zhirkov, Daniel Sturridge, Gael Kakuta, and Josh McEachran. They are talented youngsters no doubt, but I think fans would be almost unanimous in preferring Man City's options.
Manchester City did the double over Chelsea last season. However, it was results against the smaller teams that cost them. Chelsea generally tended to beat those sides, whereas only Stoke had more draws than City last year. If they are going to be realistic challengers for the title this season, they need to beat these teams. With a draw against Blackburn and a defeat to Sunderland already, this could be the difference between the sides again.
For me, Manchester City are realistic challengers. However, the biggest challenge for Mancini will be getting the players fired up for the games against the lesser sides in the division. They face Newcastle next weekend, and this goes down as a must-win game. More dropped points and this result will virtually be for nothing.
As far as Chelsea are concerned, one defeat does not make them any worse a team than they were 24 hours ago. They are still a top quality side, and the side to beat in the division. However, as with City, their game next weekend is a big one. They welcome Arsenal to Stamford Bridge in what promises to be another exciting game.
Arsenal have looked impressive so far, but have had a tendency to fall short against the top sides in recent years. An impressive Chelsea win will put the memories of this match behind them. However, further dropped points against one of their close rivals will further plant those seeds of doubt.