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A double dose of redemption (City 1, Chelsea 0)

26 September 2010

Mama Tévez got a truly excellent birthday present from her famous son.

After the injury crisis at the club prompted Roberto Mancini to effectively sacrifice the Carling Cup campaign to rest players for this weekend, a win against Chelsea was the only acceptable result. As if the first meeting between members of The New Big Four needed any additional importance, City needed to win to stay within striking distance of the Premier League title holders in this season’s chase.

Done and done.

It’s often said that under Sheikh Mansour, City are looking to follow Chelsea’s example of building an elite squad through heavy investment in the transfer market. On Saturday morning, the hosts turned in a pretty solid imitation of vintage José Mourinho Era Chelsea, powerfully suffocating the opposition while ruthlessly seizing a scoring chance when it came along.

Mourinho detested the utilitarian tag, pointing out that his Chelsea teams were consistently near the top of the league in scoring. They were capable of methodically shutting down the opposing attack, then playing with flair when they had possession. The West Londoners got a taste of their own medicine, as City pressured them relentlessly in the midfield and a defense with fill-in fullbacks neutralized Chelsea’s vaunted, high-flying attack.

Much like last season season, Nigel de Jong was all over the pitch, breaking up the visitors’ attacks and winning balls while completing 27 of 28 passes. Gareth Barry was possibly even more impressive, winning seven of eight attempted tackles and completing all 34 passes. And Vincent Kompany continued his emergence as one of the top center backs in the Premier League, turning in a Man of the Match performance with Didier Drogba in his back pocket.

City weren’t quite as dangerous with the ball as those Mourinho-managed Chelsea sides, generating only a handful of scoring opportunities. However, Carlos Tévez fired his club back into the title race by ruthlessly taking the one chance that came his way with his 25th goal in just 29 Premier League matches with City.

It was good to see a late cameo from Emmanuel Adebayor, especially after a tabloid claimed he had suffered a muscle tear. The Togolese striker didn’t do much after coming on late for Tévez, save going down too easily in the box on one occasion. Also returning from an injury layoff was Jérôme Boateng, who made his City debut after being substituted for Boyata near the end of regular time.

When the final whistle did eventually come, the Blues at The Banshee rejoiced in a third straight victory over the title holders. Opinions had been mixed on Mancini’s admission of Chelsea’s previously excellent chances of defending their Premier League title. Clearly it’s hindsight and possibly revisionism, but in light of the victory, the comments look like the sort of managerial mindgames the UK media gleefully eat up.

My initial response to the result was that I felt like it made up for the home draw with Blackburn, but the more I think about this, City should expect three points from all home matches. It’s going to take a win in an away match where a draw would have been considered a good result — perhaps a win at a place like The Emirates or Old Trafford to make up for those points dropped.

Now we turn our attention back to the Europa League, with one of the premier matches of the group stage looming on Thursday when Italian giants Juventus visit Eastlands. The injury plague remains a major concern, but with Adebayor and Boateng returning to action and Joleon Lescott on the bench, Mancini should have a much stronger team at his disposal than in his last mid-week match.

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