Few will be able to predict anything Manchester City do this season. A fantastically paid, ego-filled squad assembled for around £300 million and a history of generally not winning things don’t make for confident betting. Currently sitting in 4th place in the Premier League, that spot so craved last season, City have had a, well, mixed start to the campaign. Kicking off with a draw at Tottenham and a superb 3-0 win over Liverpool losses at Sunderland and West Brom sandwiched a draw at home to Blackburn before a fairly convincing win against Wigan. That phrase “Typical City,” forbidden by Garry Cook, started to spring to mind. But there was nothing typical about Saturday’s game as Mancini’s men pulled off an impressively efficient win against previously unstoppable Chelsea.
Not so much typical City as typically Italian. Both sides played defensively and chances were few and far between. Only 1-0 it may have been but it proved a fascinating tactical battle. Chelsea were limited to only a few long range efforts from Michael Essien which, despite the absence of Frank Lampard, does seem impressive when you consider the Londoners’ form coming into the match. Drogba, so far faultless this season, was nowhere to be seen today completing just one pass all game. He was substituted towards the end for Daniel Sturridge who got a frosty reception on his return in front of the home faithful.
The only goal in a game lacking chances was from City’s new “Captain Fantastic”, with Carlos Tevez scoring an excellent solo goal just before the hour. On the counter attack he sprinted from his own half and slotted the ball through Ashley Cole’s legs and into Cech’s goal. A subdued Eastlands came to life and a tense City managed to hold on to a win with Essien hitting the post Chelsea’s best chance.
In an attempt from Mancini to keep his rebellious squad grounded Adam Johnson was left out after paying £12,000 at a charity auction for a date with Katy Price. David Silva taking his place on the left and Yaya Toure playing a more attacking role. Both played very well along with James Milner. City had a patchwork defence with Zabaleta at left back and young Dedryk Boyata a makeshift right back. Despite this the centre backs Kompany and Kolo Toure were both excellent. Boyata too played well, making some crunching tackles and delighting the home crowd.
City may have done the double over the champions last season but this result was still quite impressive although how far City can go this season remains to be seen. Mancini’s expensive squad are expected to challenge for honours this season having not won a trophy for 35 years as the Manchester United fans with that banner will tell you. Carlo Ancelotti said after the game that he thinks City could challenge them for the title this campaign. Although these hopes took a blow in midweek as City were “typically” knocked out of the League Cup by West Brom. Now the Italian will hope that this result against “best team in the Premier League” will kick start his team’s season. The next games are at home against Juventus in the Europa League and then Newcastle before an away trip to Blackpool. All conceivably very winnable but as we know nothing is a given in football. And especially not when it involves Manchester City. An unflinching ability to balls it all up when things seem to be going their way and plenty of City fans are waiting for the moment when it all goes down the pan.
Mancini seems to now know his best team, something that couldn’t be said about his predecessor Mark Hughes. Admittedly the current boss’s tactics are more defensive than Hughes’ and some fans will complain about the lack of chances the team fashioned out today. The team could be said to lack pace after the sales of Robinho, Bellamy and Ireland. Wright Phillips is also becoming much more of a fringe player. But anyone who watched the 3-0 win over Liverpool will tell you the opposite. The team that day, played with attacking flair, pace and completely overloaded a hapless Liverpool team.
Getting the balance right, it seems, will be crucial for City this season. Being able to grind out a result like the one on Saturday and then also having the ability to clinically finish off the lesser sides that in the past have been their downfall. City may finally be ready to challenge for titles this season but don’t put any money on it.