Image: Glyn Kirk (AFP)
In the most anticipated Premier League match of the week, Chelsea hosted fellow big-boys Manchester City for a heavyweight bout. Having both enjoyed recent strings of successful performances, the two clubs were both looking to make a statement on the day.
Manuel Pellegrini did adjust his lineup from previous matches. Opting for Javi Garcia in defensive midfield over Negredo up front, Manchester City were obviously concerned about the potent attacking force of their opposition.
In a surprise move, Pellegrini chose to give 32-year-old defender Martin Demichelis his debut start at City. Although the veteran is a proven tactical defender, his lack of match fitness was definitely a risk. Especially considering the high-energy nature of such a fixture.
Jose Mourinho chose what has become his most solid back four, with Cahill and Terry in the center. Mata was again left on the bench, with Mourinho favoring Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Hazard. Fernando Torres retained his striking position, in light of recent form. The forward looked particularly sharp on the day, turning in a performance that has many asking if Mourinho has put “El Niño” back on form.
The match began with attacking displays from both sides. Without their captain and defensive leader, Vincent Kompany, Manchester City lacked confidence at the back. Gael Clichy was repeatedly exposed and dissected on the wing. It was from his side that Ivanovic would flick a ball up-field for Torres in the 33rd minute. Torres found Schurrle in front of goal with a low cross, which he converted easily into goal for the lead.
The lead would not last long after the break, however. After only four minutes into the second half, Sergio Aguero made a proper run in from the left wing. He fired a powerful shot past Peter Cech and into the upper-left corner to bring City back level.
The remainder of the game would feature some brilliant team-play from both sides. Manchester City passed the ball around the field with eloquence. David Silva was a maestro in midfield and Javi Garcia distributed the ball with precision. However, without the addition striking force of Negredo, City were unable to take advantage of their superior possession.
Entering the final minutes of the game, it looked to end a draw. In retrospect, it would have been a deserved finish. However, in the 90th minute, a decisive goal would come from a moment of indecision between defender Nastasic and goalkeeper Joe Hart. As the defender tracked back on an overhead pass, Nastasic attempted to head the ball to the keeper. Meanwhile, Hart was making an attempt on the ball. Torres ran on to the misplaced pass to win the match for his side in the final moments of regular-time.
Jose Mourinho was proud of his sides resolve and admitted they were fortunate to get the result. ”It is difficult to be much better than a fantastic team. We should have scored more goals,” said Mourinho. ”The second half they start very strong. They score a great goal and after that the game was open. It was for both sides. In that period you have the little bit of luck you need to win these matches. We had this lucky situation, although you could say a belief situation because Fernando had the belief. We won a game that is very important for us. I think we beat the best team in the Premier League.”