His team looked defensive on paper but his attacking intent caught Manuel Pellegrini out at the Etihad
On paper, José Mourinho's team selection appeared entirely negative. When questioned before the match about whether his starting XI suggested a bus-parking exercise, the Chelsea manager's response was interesting. "Parking the bus has no relation with the players the manager chooses, it has a relation to how the team plays," he said. "You can play with six, seven, eight defensive players and be an attacking team." That, essentially, was Mourinho's grand plan.
By omitting his regular playmaker, Oscar, and using David Luiz, Nemanja Matic and Ramires in midfield, it seemed Mourinho was using his defensive-minded 4-3-3 formation that ground out a goalless draw at Arsenal shortly before Christmas. Instead, Chelsea were more adventurous.
City's use of Martín Demichelis, in place of the injured Fernandinho, might have encouraged Mourinho to change his plans and use Willian centrally, but either way, Mourinho's plans worked wonderfully.
There were certainly defensive features of Chelsea's strategy: the trio of David Luiz, Matic and Ramires formed a secure shield for the defence, and nullified David Silva. Without Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri and Fernandinho, the Spaniard had more creative responsibility than usual but struggled to find pockets of space and did not attempt a single through-ball. Negating his threat was crucial, as Chelsea recorded the first clean sheet from a visiting side at the Etihad for more than three years.
The majority of both sides' most dangerous attacks originated from the same flank. With Silva drifting inside and Ramires naturally shuttling back into his customary central midfield role, it meant space for both full-backs down that wing.
The game's first chance came when Aleksandar Kolarov motored down and crossed dangerously into the box for Yaya Touré, who almost connected at the far post. One of City's rare clear-cut chances in the second half came when Kolarov again advanced, and his cross found Silva in a centre-forward position.
Kolarov's overlapping has been a key feature of City's campaign, but the attack-minded role played by his fellow Serbian full-back Branislav Ivanovic was more surprising. The more Silva drifted inside, the more Ivanovic had licence to get forward, especially with Chelsea using both David Luiz and Matic in deep-lying midfield roles to cover if City broke quickly.
His aggressive positioning was obvious even before he opened the scoring, and while Mourinho probably did not expect his right-back to have such a crucial attacking impact – especially not with a left-foot half-volley from the edge of the box – letting Ivanovic off the leash was crucial.
Ivanovic's performance epitomised Chelsea – he was defensively solid, but played with surprising attacking intent. David Luiz and Matic were primarily defensive midfielders but contributed further forward too, with the latter thumping the woodwork from distance, while Ramires was crucial in launching counterattacks and had Chelsea's first genuine chance.
This was a truly universal performance from Chelsea: the defensive players contributed in attack, and the attackers started the defensive pressure. Willian's boundless energy was particularly crucial in shutting down midfielders, while Hazard's willingness to sprint across to the touchline to make an important tackle in stoppage time summed up the side's work rate.
It was a classic Mourinho strategy in the closing stages – throw on defensive players and sit deep – but his opening strategy surprised many, including Manuel Pellegrini. In big matches, he remains the master.