Putting their painful defeat of just two weeks ago firmly behind them, Manchester City produced a commanding display to earn a 2-0 victory over Chelsea to move into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.
In an encounter of sharp contrast to the recent Premier League meeting, City scored in each half through Stevan Jovetic and the returning Samir Nasri to earn a thoroughly deserved victory over their title rivals and keep ambitious hopes of a quadruple alive.
That Jovetic was on the score-sheet was fitting, with the forward epitomizing the far greater balance in this City lineup than the one which was ripped through repeatedly by Chelsea on the break so recently. Starting in place of Alvaro Negredo, the man whose first season in England has been ravaged through injury dropped deep and drifted wide to provide cover for David Silva and help prevent City’s midfield from being overrun. Adding to the greater stability, Gael Clichy and James Milner provided more defensive awareness than the players whose places they took from the last matches between the sides, while Javi Garcia and Yaya Toure offered a more balanced midfield display. Throughout, Chelsea simply never had the same opportunities to exploit.
A Chelsea side that lacked the intensity of their stirring win on their previous visit to the Etihad were found wanting with the onus on them to take the initiative. Indeed, not a single chance of note was created by the visitors, whose defense was also decidedly less solid without injured captain John Terry. It was a resounding and controlled win for City and a welcome boost both for their title aspirations and as they head into their mammoth Champions League clash with Barcelona in midweek.
Other than John Mikel Obi coming in for Terry and David Luiz dropping into the center of defense, Jose Mourinho fielded the same lineup that had been so impressive in a making a powerful statement against their rivals at the start of February. Yet, from the off, this duel had a very different feel.
The first chance of the match came 15 minutes in. Petr Cech spilled a 25-yard effort from Toure that was straight at the Chelsea goalkeeper, who was left relieved as the fast-pouncing Jovetic could only clip the top of the crossbar with his follow-up effort.
If Jovetic was disappointed to have failed to find the net on that occasion, he wouldn’t have to wait long to make amends. Just a minute later, a flowing attacking movement saw Silva find Edin Dzeko, who, with Milner’s run inside causing a distraction, was able to lay it onto Jovetic in space outside Cesar Azpilicueta. Despite his lack of action this season, the former Fiorentina man produced a clinical low finish this time off the favorable side of the woodwork to properly announce himself in England.
The encouraging combination play between City’s front two was again in evidence when Jovetic dropped deep and found Dzeko, who curled a left-footed effort from 20 yards that Cech beat away.
Chelsea were now obliged to make the running, yet struggled to make any inroads toward getting an equalizer. Eden Hazard moved centrally to try and provide a spark but the in-form Belgian was being well shackled by a diligent City side eager to close down their opponent’s danger men. Not only were Chelsea suffering from Mikel offering little in an attacking sense from deep, Ramires, such a counter-attacking threat against City two weeks ago, also had his lack of quality on the ball shown up.
Chelsea’s deficit could have been even more daunting at the break had Dzeko been able to stretch a couple of inches more to meet a cross from Milner after David Luiz over-committed himself down the left.
Mourinho, such a master at changing the course of a game with his tactical switches, on this occasion could manufacture no such turnaround. Mohamed Salah’s introduction at the break, to go into an unfamiliar central role alongside Hazard up front, offered precious little. The same could be said when Fernando Torres was brought on in place of Ramires. In contrast, Manuel Pellegrini’s first substitution paid rich dividends.
Following a six-week absence, Nasri came on for the tiring Jovetic and picked up right where he left off in what has been his best season to date at the Etihad. Just six minutes after coming on, the former Arsenal man combined brilliantly with Silva as City produced the kind of incisive football that Chelsea so lacked to put the result effectively beyond doubt.
After being found, perhaps marginally offside, running in behind the flat-footed Gary Cahill, Silva played a brilliantly aware first-time pass across the face of goal back into the path of Nasri, who with Luiz caught appealing for an offside flag, was given the simplest of tasks to finish into an unguarded net.
From that blow there was to be no coming back for Chelsea as City and Pellegrini gained a victory that could yet prove to have far wider implications beyond progress toward Wembley.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.