There’s a fat lady known to sing when all is lost…well, according to Roberto Mancini she hasn’t even found her song sheet at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City’s boss is adamant that with 11 Premier League wins to play for, the 12 point divide between City and Manchester United could yet be bridged.
It’d take a very brave man to wager a substantial sum on City somehow retaining their PL crown but, on this comprehensive beating of third placed Chelsea, you never know.
Mancini and City’s problem is that even if they somehow harvest the final 33 points up for grabs, they know that Fergie’s bunch need only another 22 and any herculean sky blue efforts will be in vain.
But you have to start somewhere and City did just that – with style – in one of their most convincing performances of the season. The City haters in the media had this one down as the game that marked the beginning of the end of Roberto Mancini’s reign…well think again poisonous pen-pushers.
Mark Ogden of the Telegraph was typical. A 3-1 Chelsea win and City imploding amid a cauldron of bickering football mercenaries, just in it for the Abu Dhabi dollars.
How wrong can you be when blinded by bile, envy and vitriol?
This was better than the walk in the park FA Cup win against lower league Leeds United – this was a dismantling of the reigning European champions – who managed just one solitary attempt on target.
This was a cohesive Manchester City, a combative Manchester City, a Manchester City who remembered they are still Champions of England and performed accordingly.
It was as far removed from the abject negativity of the loss at Southampton as can be imagined, so what does that say about Mancini the motivator, Mancini the man manager and Mancini the master tactician?
Even the formidable ‘Forza Mancini’ following were questioning the decision to leave Carlos Tevez on the bench, facilitating a first team return for Jack Rodwell and enabling Yaya Toure a free roaming role.
The answer was duly delivered. Yaya, back to his brilliant best scored an exquisite opening goal, Rodwell had his most effective game as a City player and Tevez broke his goal drought with a scintillating strike to ice the victory.
City were in the ascendancy with their aggressive attacking style, creating numerous opportunities. A half time lead of 3-0 would not have flattered the hosts.
Petr Cech was all that stood between Rafa Benitez’ men and a proper hammering. The giant Chelsea keeper made stunning stops from Nastasic and Rodwell headers, as well as tipping a dipping 30 yard Rodwell drive over the bar in the first half.
Zabaleta’s cracking volley cannoned off Gary Cahill’s cranium as City laid siege to the Londoner’s goal. With Torres, Oscar and Moses on the bench, Chelsea’s offensive threat rested on Hazard, Mata and Ba.
In three outings against City this season Hazard has failed to live up to his billing or his name – he hasn’t even proven himself a minor inconvenience. Ba – complete with Phantom of the Opera protective mask was at least theatrical – especially when diving to get Chelsea a debateable penalty. I say face mask – they could have been diving goggles.
The Senegalese striker took a splendid pass from Ivanovic, managed to get goal side of Kolo Toure and then make the very most of a touch by the onrushing Hart. In real time it looked a penalty. In replay Hart hardly touched him and was pulling his arms out of the way rather than hauling the striker down.
Amazingly, the abysmal referee Andre Marriner, who was stinking the place out worse than a bucket of severed cod heads, showed neither a yellow or red card to Hart. It wasn’t warranted but, having incorrectly awarded the penalty, the City stopper could have walked.
Redemption or karma – call it what you will – was on hand in the shape of Hart’s right palm as he saved Lampard’s free kick in spectacular fashion. Kolo, eager to atone for his original lapse, was first to react and clear the rebound.
Hart – mobbed by his team mates – was ecstatic, adrenalin fuelled and fist pumping. It meant a lot, especially after recent criticism.
At the other end, the indefatigable Aguero latched onto slide rule precision passes from Silva and Milner but to no avail.
It was the same Anglo-Spanish supply line which created City’s breakthrough just after the hour. Silva and Milner exchanged a trio of passes before Yaya sculptured a creation through Chelsea’s massed defence. His curved shot eluded Cahill and Cech and City were one up.
The Ivorian talisman collected Silva – one armed as if carrying a small child – in the goal celebration.
Chelsea were all huff and puff and even a £90m triple substitution of Torres, Oscar and Moses failed to ignite anything resembling a fightback.
It fell, somewhat majestically, to the irrepressible Tevez to break his eight game PL goal drought and clinch the win. Aguero and Silva combined down the left flank and the Spanish playmaker rolled the ball to Tevez who drilled an unstoppable shot past Cech from the edge of the 18 yard box.
City were still up for the PL fight and looking bang in form. The large lady was told to hold back on the lyrics and not a song was heard.