The Argentine returned to action for Roberto Mancini's side for the first time in six months and set up Samir Nasri's crucial winner as the hosts beat Chelsea 2-1COMMENT
By Greg Stobart at the Etihad Stadium
As a man on the other side of this city might say: football, bloody hell.
What incredible spirit, skill and sparkle Manchester City showed on Wednesday night to claw themselves back to within a point of their bitter rivals Manchester United with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Chelsea.
An hour into the game, City’s title challenge appeared to be falling by the wayside. They were 1-0 down to Gary Cahill’s fluke goal, lacking impetus and appearing to feel the pressure. Roberto Mancini turned to his bench and saw the man he thought could turn the game, and in turn City’s title challenge, on its head.
The Italian swallowed his pride and waved Carlos Tevez back from his warm-up (which he didn’t refuse to do this time) for his first City appearance since September with 24 minutes left at the Etihad Stadium.
Some of the crowd booed, but those jeers were quickly overpowered by cheers from the majority of the City supporters. Like Mancini, they recognised this as a time for hard-nosed pragmatism. A first top flight title in 44 years means far more in these parts than any moral crusade.
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|66'||Here is Carlos Tevez! He is not afforded an entirely positive reception by the Manchester City fans, but there are more cheers than boos as his name is announced.|
| PLAYER RATING
|6.5||Made his long-awaited return as a 66th minute replacement for De Jong. Greeted by a mixture of boos and cheers - but affirmed his ability with a delicate pass to set up Nasri's winner.|
With the introduction of Tevez, the whole atmosphere in the ground changed. It wasn’t so much what he was doing, but his mere presence provided a new sense of energy and optimism for a team that has been stuttering in recent weeks.
‘Welcome to Manchester’ was the poster so famously unveiled by City when Tevez turned down United to cross the city divide.
For most of the last six months, Tevez has been most unwelcome in Manchester after falling out with Mancini and then returning to Argentina. But now he’s back, potentially the catalyst to get City’s title challenge back on track.
In the 78th, the hosts drew level, Sergio Aguero converting from the spot after Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien handled Pablo Zabaleta’s volley.
But it was not going to be enough. City needed all three points, they could not afford to drop more when they are challenging a United side themselves in stunning form.
Then, five minutes from time, came a moment that could define the title race. Samir Nasri, superb all night, was put through on goal by a wonderful pass from Tevez and the Frenchman dinked the ball into the Chelsea net.
Mancini went beserk on the touchline, City players rushed to celebrate with both Nasri and, crucially, Tevez. Footballers are just as fickle as supporters - it only takes five minutes for everything to be forgotten - and now the 28-year-old is set up to feature heavily in the final two months of the season.
It was a turnaround that will provoke a reassessment of City’s title chances from those who have been looking at their fixtures and questioning their ability to handle the pressure. What we can now say is that there are two teams who have the ability and mentality to win the league.
It sets up a nail-biting final nine games of the season. City and United must surely now have an eye on the Manchester derby on April 30, which by the day looks increasingly like it could decide the destination of the Premier League title.
Sir Alex Ferguson would have been watching on Wednesday night and would have been deflated after seeing City stage a comeback that drew parallels with his own sides of the past 25 years.
What must he have been thinking as he watched the game turn in such dramatic fashion? Football, bloody hell.
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