City manager orchestrates emphatic FA Cup fifth-round victory which took wind out of José Mourinho's sails
No one could ever call José Mourinho a specialist in failure. It is the manager self-designated as special who delights in attaching unflattering labels to his rivals. The FA Cup is possibly not Chelsea's highest priority either, yet here was a result to bring a wry smile to Arsène Wenger's lips and remind the opinionated one that there are other shows in town than his own.
Mourinho has been talking a good game all week, but then he usually does, confident in the knowledge that his players can produce the performances to back up his words. This was one that did not.
Chelsea were all but unrecognisable from the mean machine of a fortnight ago, City far less willing to be crushed beneath their wheels. The FA Cup may be a lesser concern to both these clubs than the league, which Chelsea currently lead by virtue of inflicting Manchester City's first home defeat of the season, and although Manuel Pellegrini denies it that result seemed to take some of the wind out of his side's sails in the next game at Norwich.
This was City's chance to reassert themselves, and they took it. Pellegrini picked a strong side considering the proximity of their Champions League meeting with Barcelona.
Alvaro Negredo and Samir Nasri only made the bench, though both are returning from injury, and Pellegrini was as good as his word in persisting with two strikers in Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic. The latter, rarely seen in his first season in England due to injury, hit the bar before putting his side ahead in the first half and played well enough to convince City followers that they still have three quality strikers from which to choose while they wait for the return of Sergio Agüero.
The game was won and lost in midfield, however, where City learned their lesson from the league encounter and got much closer to Eden Hazard, in addition to making sure Chelsea could not gang up on Yaya Touré as they had done a couple of weeks ago. Javi García is not exactly a favourite at the Etihad, where the crowd is quickly on his back when he makes a mistake, yet by virtue of not being Martin Demichelis he was welcomed back to the side and in fairness put in an impressively tidy display.
Hazard always looked Chelsea's most dangerous player, eager to take the ball and willing to switch flanks once he had had enough of trying to get past Pablo Zabaleta on the left, though every time he made even the slightest progress Vincent Kompany would arrive on the scene to clear the danger. The City captain put in his usual solid defensive shift, only once being caught out by Hazard's speed of thought and movement and picking up a yellow card for an obvious foul as a consequence, and as a result the home side had a much more solid platform on which to build their attacks.
Jovetic almost set up a second goal on the stroke of the interval when he left David Luiz floundering on the right, only to see Dzeko fail to connect with James Milner's inviting cross.
Even without that extra cushion City opened the second half with almost arrogant confidence, stroking the ball around on halfway as if challenging Chelsea to come out and chase the game. Mourinho is well known for preaching that a single goal is enough but Pellegrini can play that game too, even if conservative football is not exactly in City's DNA. Mourinho's response was to keep reshuffling his front line, first with Mohamed Salah, then with Fernando Torres, but Chelsea were still unable to exert any control in midfield, where Nemanja Matic was a surprisingly negligible influence. Pellegrini introduced Samir Nasri for the tiring Jovetic, probably wisely since the penalty area dive that earned the Montenegrin a caution was a very tired piece of simulation indeed, and within six minutes of taking the field Nasri and David Silva exposed some statuesque Chelsea defending to clinch the tie. Two-nil, goodbye, as Mourinho might have put it.
The City fans were mocking Mourinho for the paucity of his side's football by the end, though in the Chelsea manager's defence they were doing that in the league match despite the Londoners' evident superiority. This victory should do much to restore City's confidence for the challenges ahead, both in the Champions League and the domestic one, especially as they can expect Agüero and Fernandinho to return at some point next month. Chelsea are still top of the table, however, without having to worry about Europe until next week, and while that situation persists Mourinho is unlikely to be too disappointed by having his trophy options cut to two. Compared to the standard set at the start of the month Chelsea were hugely disappointing, with a flatness that could not be wholly explained by the absence of John Terry or the rigours of a game in midweek. A reinvigorated City successfully proved that even Mourinho cannot command a masterclass every week.