By Peter Staunton at the Etihad
"I am not saying we are better than them," he declared. "We beat them twice but they are the best team." Manchester City, he admitted, were the best side Chelsea had played this season, "no doubts about it."
But when it came to putting his side into the title race after as convincing a 0-1 win away as you could possibly find - at a side who simply do not lose at home - Jose Mourinho preferred instead to list all the games Chelsea have failed to win this season.
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|It will be hard to avoid the categorisation of this one as a 'Mourinho masterclass' because that is exactly what it was. Chelsea faced Manchester City eye-to-eye and came out on top. This was not 19th century, defensive football hoping for the best, this was precise counter-attacking and diligent work in defence.
It was well-deserved and it blows the title race wide open. City were below par and could not, until late, make things difficult for Petr Cech. But they were made to be second-best by an excellent Chelsea who threatened time and again with the stupendous Hazard and the industrious Ramires, who shone brightly. But that takes nothing away from the rest of the Chelsea boys. This was a statement win from Mourinho's side.
"There are two big horses and a little horse," he said. "A horse that next season can race.
"We can win it if they lose it."
There is only so long the manager can file his team as a work in progress. If we are expected to believe that then Chelsea need to stop beating the title contenders lest they be mistaken for one themselves.
There was a lingering perception that Chelsea would do to Manchester City as West Ham did to them last week; spoil the match and stop City playing. Half right. Chelsea spoiled nothing; they were brilliant in every department. But they did indeed knock the Pellegrini machine out of sync. Where West Ham owed scarcely-believable fortune for evading defeat at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea owed nothing of the sort. "A victory against a very good team is better than a victory against an ordinary team," Mourinho said satisfactorily. He extracted a measured, precise, disciplined performance out of his troops on Monday night. They stopped a goalscoring locomotive in its tracks like Superman with an outstretched hand.
Rarely do players carry the message of their manager like these Chelsea players do in their deeds for Mourinho.
Ramires, lurking on the counter, typifies Mourinho's approach and is becoming one of his more distinctive lieutenants.
In Eden Hazard, Chelsea have their own Cristiano Ronaldo as Mourinho had at Real Madrid. "Ronaldo and Messi are Ronaldo and Messi," proffered Jose in a predictable eschewing of bombast. "I keep saying he has to improve. He needs to have his feet on the ground."
|2/1||Chelsea are 2/1 with Betway to win the Premier League|
City, instead, failed to consistently go behind Chelsea and hurt them with meaningful attacks. Only three times did they as much as hit the target. That is testament to Chelsea's bravery in quelling them. Nemanja Matic was the pick of the midfielders on show. "I knew that he was ready to come to the Premier League," said Mourinho. "That's why we did it now. We didn't want to lose him." John Terry and Gary Cahill were rock solid, keeping a ninth clean sheet in 17 league matches together this season and, with David Luiz and Matic, putting a lockdown on the offensive midfield area so often the preserve of David Silva.
City are still, probably, favourites for the title but this is not only an encouraging display for Chelsea - it is also one for Arsenal and anyone else who fancies themselves as champions elect.
Manchester City are beatable - even at home after a run of 11 wins in 12. When they are described in superhuman terms, it serves only to highlight the flaws in the opposition around the Premier League. Mourinho, to his credit, gave City their dues in the build-up and said that Chelsea would try to win the match if they could. No mind-games there. "This is a good feeling," he said. "We played against the best team in this country."
Chelsea had the confidence to face City head on and beat them convincingly. Mourinho's characteristic fervour remains undiminished. "We love the big games," he said. "When you love it, you feel extra motivated." Chelsea have blown the title race wide open. Let us know when you're ready to admit that much, Jose.