With big games now coming thick and fast for Manuel Pellegrini's side, the FA Cup win over their Premier League title rivals was a timely confidence boostCOMMENT
By Peter Staunton at the Etihad Stadium
This was a reminder, not only to league and European rivals, but to Manchester City themselves of what they can do. The last couple of matches were damaging in the sense that the fluency, the assuredness in front of goal and the creativity were totally absent. They were given an unexpected boost, too, by sneaking in a rest day in midweek when Chelsea had none.
They took advantage. "It was very important for our team not to play against Sunderland on Wednesday," Manuel Pellegrini admitted after this comprehensive 2-0 win. "I saw that the team was not fresh. That's why we were a little down in our performance against Chelsea and against Norwich. Today we saw again the team that was playing before the last two games."
Saturday, though, had everything. It was a clean, consistent performance with plenty of chances created and a sense of superiority well and truly re-established. There would be no radical altering of methods just because results were unforthcoming in recent matches. It was just a matter of regaining that belief. "This team will not change the way we play," he said. "We must do it in our style of play. Always."
That conviction should stand them in good stead now with big games in four competitions coming into view. Barcelona, and a resurgent Lionel Messi, are next up at the Etihad which had been somewhat of a fortress until Chelsea came swaggering a couple of weeks back.
The way in which City kept the ball from Chelsea's key players on Saturday will give them a fillip. A defeat here - a third game without a win - would have precipitated the "crisis" headlines. Out of the cup, stuttering in the league with Barca coming to call. No doubt it would have been difficult for Pellegrini to defuse that particular set of circumstances should a confidence shortage grip his players and, indeed, the fans.
But City, without ever being really tested, preyed on Chelsea's weaknesses and simply had too much vim and vigour.
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"We were never close to scoring or being dominant. Or to bring fear to the game," he said. "City played much better than us and deserved much more than us to win. When the best team wins, I think that football is in peace."
What transpired on the pitch spoke for itself. Chelsea may have added to their squad in the January transfer window but they still do not have the strength in depth to cope with this intense a fixture list. "There was a difference of freshness between the teams," Mourinho admitted. "One team played two days ago and another team played last week and had one week without competitive football. It was easy to see the difference."
It is not enough to put it all down to fatigue. Where once Chelsea came here and dominated, the same side could barely muster a shot on goal. The only change in personnel from the league game here was John Obi Mikel for John Terry with David Luiz reverting to centre back. After this horror show it is unlikely he will play there again.
Nemanja Matic, Mourinho pointed out, was a shadow of the man who put Yaya Toure in his pocket the other week. One late foul on the Ivorian encapsulated the jadedness and frustration in the midfielder's efforts. He simply did not have the legs after playing midweek on a matchday on which City had an unexpected day off.
A few days away from the glare of the battlefield did Pellegrini's side the world of good. And so the unlikely and deliberately muted quad-quest goes on but the Chilean is still downplaying it. "The team now is in good shape. It's good to have the morale up for these matches," was about as anticipatory as it got.