The pre-match hype understandably centred on the return of Tevez to the Manchester City bench for the first time since Munich. Yet there was another figure in tracksuit and gloves whose presence in the dug-out was far more pertinent to City’s immediate cause: Stefan Savic.
With his errant, costly pass at Swansea the young Montenegrin had made one gaffe too many despite some uncharacteristic patience from Mancini who undoubtedly rates the centre-back highly. Further opportunities will follow but not this term and certainly not with Chelsea and a revitalised Torres in town for a game where the margins for error were no longer costly but potentially title-busting.
The run-in is no time for development and learning on your feet and the City boss finally bowed to public demand and switched Richards to the position in which he began his career. Additionally installing him as captain the highest compliment I can pay Micah is that nobody mentioned the absence of Kompany or Lescott – the cornerstones on which City’s season has been built – all evening. He was superb, he was disciplined, and most importantly of all in a game so tense with consequence, he was assured.
I kidded myself beforehand that a draw wouldn’t be the worst result in the world – it would cede precious ground to United but with them still to visit the Etihad in what promises to be the industrial revolution of all Manchester encounters on April 30th the championship would remain in City’s fate as much as their arch rivals. Of course once the match was underway and the home side dominated proceedings in a manner they’ve struggled to muster of late a solitary point was all-but-forgotten. Interim moments of class from Chelsea on the break-away however brought the awful truth crashing in of just how damaging a loss would be.
Chelsea nullified in numbers then looked slick in possession, exploiting the gap left by the marauding Toure with only a poor final ball preventing them from carving out any genuine chances. Under Di Matteo they already look a very different proposition – perhaps that should more accurately be, by not being under AVB.
City’s neat patient build-up play meanwhile failed to mask yet another disappointing performance from their Spanish magician who has still not found his book of spells. If anyone with a healthy disregard for United discovers it can you please return it pronto or else the title could well be Fergusons again for the taking. All this media nonsense about bottle amounts to nothing with the personnel and pedigree in City’s ranks but without David’s impish imagination and cunning the final charge could solely be undertaken on passion and force of will. Nasri tried to compensate – and did so admirably – with another hungry and sharp display but what a time for our quicksilva to turn to lead.
At that moment blues would have applauded the emergence of Harold Shipman if it increased the chances of a revival.
The break brought the surprising introduction of Barry for Balotelli in a similar reshuffle to the one made against Sporting Lisbon last week that prompted a second half goal rush. With two now sitting behind him orchestrating matters from deep it allowed Toure to venture where he liked though it still didn’t resolve the lack of width that had hampered City in the first 45 and attacks remained tippy-tap affairs down central cul-de-sacs. Chelsea looked comfortable with the change.
Their comfort soon turned to joy when Cahill’s poke deflected off Yaya and past the wrong-footed Hart. This was always going to be the toughest of challenges but now, in an instant of misfortune, it appeared Sisyphean. Now that draw that wouldn’t be the end of the world became the entire universe but to claw things back against a side mostly made up of champions bolstered on renewed vigour and belief then City would need a helping hand. In the event they got two, both thrown up by Michael Essien with Aguero showing Balotelli he isn’t the only man immune to spot-pressure by slotting home the resulting pen.
Before that however, in the immediate aftermath of Chelsea’s opener, came the much-anticipated return of the prodigal c***. Did anyone really think we were going to boo him? Certainly not in these circumstances – desperate times called for desperate measures and frankly at that moment blues would have applauded the emergence of Harold Shipman if it increased the chances of a revival – but it was noticeable that after the welcome back came a resounding chorus of Mancini’s song. Get us back to the top Tevez and we’ll hate you considerably less but our love and allegiance will always be with the boss you so royally screwed over.
Carlos looked…well, like Carlos, only a little slower and ring-rusty, but his trademark foraging unsettled the Chelsea rearguard and opened things up for Aguero who had the beating of Luiz all evening long but now had the considerable bonus of space to do it in.
With Dzeko thrown on too for a three-pronged attack line the stage was set for a Hollywood ending with Tevez playing the deformed leading role. Did it happen? Of course it did. This is City and f***ed-up drama and redemption are embedded in the club’s DNA and no amount of money or prima donna hissyfits will ever change that. The Argentine – mood swings and all – is more alike to the club he so evidently loathes than he would ever care to admit to.
When he brilliantly flicked the ball on for Nasri to dink it home I can honestly say I haven’t celebrated so wildly since Yaya sunk United and sent us to Wembley last year.
Welcome back to Manchester Carlos. For now. Cheer up you traitorous t***, it’s not the end of the world.