Verdict: Manchester City 1 Chelsea 0
Goal: Tevez 58 mins for City.
City recorded their most impressive victory of the season so far thanks to a goal from Carlos Tevez and a defensive performance to rank alongside the best in the clubs recent history. With the same defenders as Mark Hughes had available, it doesn’t take a Match of the Day analyst to see where Mancini has had the greatest effect.
“City are conceding half as many goals on average in the Premier League under Mancini than they were under Hughes.”
With injuries accounting for four players likely to have played full-back, this was a real testament to Italian managerial organisation and motivation. Dedryck Boyata was the young central defender asked to play right-back and did so with great composure and beautifully timed tackling.
Dedryck looks a little shy, almost timid, in appearance, yet his application was superb and he even demonstrated a knowledge of the darker arts when blocking one attempted run by Drogba. Such was Mancini’s confidence in the youngster that he didn’t even offer him the protection of a Milner type player to track Ashley Cole.
David Silva was nominally stationed on the wing but drifted around the midfield offering his skills wherever a space appeared. Chelsea targeted Boyata with Anelka, Cole and Malouda all attempting to break through on our right flank.
Mancini trusted Kolo Toure and Nigel de Jong to come over and provide additional cover, and the tactic just about succeeded. On the opposing flank, Zabaleta had a more straightforward afternoon in the kind of defensive display he relishes.
The one weak link in City’s defence was Zabaleta’s lack of height and Chelsea capitalized on this for the only time they came close to scoring. A short corner resulted in a deep cross where Alex was able to climb above the Argentine and nod the ball back for Ivanovic to head first against the bar, then into Joe Hart’s grateful hands.
Ahead of the Argentine, James Milner fought a teriffic personal duel with Ivanovic, both in attacking and defending. If only City had someone to get on the end of his crosses, James’ personal victory would have been more emphatic.
In the middle of the defence Kolo and Kompany were once again outstanding and, with impeccable positional play, made tackle after tackle. The finest compliment to pay them was the withdrawal of an ineffective Drogba by Ancelotti.
“I think Kolo is playing really well. I know he is enjoying his football a great deal at the moment and he and Vincent Kompany are both looking strong.”
As predicted, the centre of midfield was no place for the faint hearted with City going toe to toe, tackle to tackle with Michael Essien and co. Nigel de Jong won the most plaudits, but the real improvement this season has been the continued good form of Gareth Barry.
At Villa Gareth was used to being the main man and playing every game under Martin O’Neill, a manager who rarely rotates his squad. Last season the edge went off Barry’s game as he continued to feature in nearly every match.
With the addition of Yaya and a fit Vieira, Mancini is now rotating Barry and he’s looking a lot sharper for it. Against Chelsea he was both quick to close down opponents and the most composed passer in tight situations. This ability to make a little space and retain possession was crucial.
The possession stats showed the Londoners enjoyed 53% of the ball, but the fact we had 47% shows we were never overwhelmed despite our emphasis on defensive solidity. By retaining possession for decent periods, we stopped Chelsea from building up momentum. This is as essential as tackling for keeping the top sides at bay.
Aside from the goal and a snap shot from Silva we may not have given Cech a great deal to think about, but concerns about our support for Tevez are for another day. Against a team as good as Chelsea, a victory, no matter how narrow, is all that matters.
The one intriguing attacking tactic by Mancini occurred after we scored. Yaya is not a natural for the role of creative midfielder and it had been no surprise to see him dropping back and helping out with the defending in the first hour of the match.
Following the goal, one might have expected the Ivorian to drift deeper as we sought to protect our lead. Instead he seemed to move further upfield and closer to Tevez. One barnstorming run nearly saw him through on the Chelsea goal.
With Chelsea having sacrificed one on their central midfielders in Ramires, Yaya was now giving their defence more to think about. Rather than exert greater pressure, Chelsea’s threat actually diminished after the goal.
In the closing minutes, City were the team looking more likely to score as Adebayor threatened to get away from deflated opponents. With the final whistle, the City players could celebrate a job well done and a plan carried out to perfection.
“Everybody knows what kind of manager he is. He has come from a country where defence is number one and he has brought that mentality from Italy.
“He spends more time on the training pitch with the defenders to get them to realise that a clean sheet is holy.”
One final reason for Mancini to smile was the strength of our bench. With Boateng, Adebayor and Lescott all making returns from injury, the manager has options to rotate the team with top quality players for the upcoming Juventus and Newcastle games.