David Silva’s equalizer kept Manchester City in sight of the Premier League summit, but a 1-1 result at Stamford Bridge means leaders Chelsea remain firmly in the driving seat and five points clear heading into the final 15 matches of the season.
City had come back from an eight-point deficit to draw level with Chelsea on New Year’s Day, but knew they could ill afford to fall behind by the same margin on Saturday. That looked to be in the cards, though, when, despite a strong start from the visitors, Chelsea took the lead four minutes before halftime through Loïc Rémy. The striker, starting in place of the suspended Diego Costa, produced a simple finish after Eden Hazard’s volleyed low cross was ill-advisedly left by City captain Vincent Kompany. But Manuel Pellegrini’s men hit back just four minutes later, courtesy of an uncharacteristic error from Thibaut Courtois that saw his punch arrive at the feet of Sergio Agüero and Silva show superb reactions to turn in the Argentinean’s low shot.
Those few minutes of goal-mouth action at the climax of the first half were out of keeping with a top-of-the table encounter that, in large part because of the situation in the title race, was short on thrills. In the second half in particular, Chelsea showed that they were more than content to walk away with their five-point advantage intact. While City were on top, they failed to create a single chance of note in search of a winner that would have dramatically altered the title picture.
Those players not on the pitch also played a significant part in that lack of attacking vitality on display at both ends. Chelsea missed the intensity and ruthlessness of Costa up front, while the absence of Cesc Fabregas meant they had less creativity but more solidity in their midfield, with Ramires lining up alongside Nemanja Matic. City, meanwhile, although featuring a strong performance from Fernandinho, were again missing the dynamism Yaya Toure. And up front Agüero suggested that he has yet to rediscover his devastating sharpness. Not even the introduction of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard could provide the goal City craved, as his former club finished the happier.
Mourinho’s contentment with a point will surely have been enhanced by events of the past week. After crashing out of the FA Cup to Bradford City and beating Liverpool over 120 minutes to reach the final of the Capital One Cup, Chelsea went into the fixture with their closest title rivals without the two players who had done so much to put them in a commanding position, Costa and Fabregas.
Mourinho will also have been unnerved by the vulnerability his side displayed in the early going. On several occasions Chelsea cheaply conceded possession in their defensive third to give Manchester City the chance to mount dangerous counter attacks. But City couldn’t capitalize. Their best chance came when John Terry was caught out by a long ball over the top and Aguero raced clear but shot wide of the far post.
City were far from faultless at the back, either, and Chelsea made them pay with their only clear opportunity of the 90 minutes. Branislav Ivanovic, dreadful in possession to that point, picked out a chipped cross that went over the head of Bacary Sagna to allow Hazard to put a superb ball across the edge of the six-yard box. After Kompany pulled away his boot, Remy converted for his third Premier League goal for Chelsea.
The situation was now perfectly set for Chelsea, but their advantage was stripped away before even the half-time interval. Even more surprising was that Courtois, so impressive in his first Premier League season, was the man at fault in misjudging Jesus Navas’ teasing cross.
Mourinho was determined his defense wouldn’t be punctured again in the second half. Chelsea sat back, with their attacking players an almost complete non-factor. But, while City applied increasing pressure and Pellegrini introduced Lampard, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic late on, the closest they could come to a winner was a Fernandinho header into the ground tipped over by Courtois.