Manchester City were invincible at the Etihad Stadium…or so it seemed.
When Chelsea arrived for the Premier League encounter on 3 February, few would have suspected the free-scoring Citizens would have drawn a blank, even if Jose Mourinho does have a history of negating some of the best attacks in Europe.
This was a side who put six past Arsenal , Tottenham and West Ham United, the side who went one better than that against Norwich City, and the side who put four past Manchester United, Newcastle United, Cardiff City and a Watford team audacious enough to attempt a giant-killing.
In the face of that I was done tipping visitors to put a stop to City’s front-line, and then Chelsea did just that.
The hosts may have had 65% of the possession and 24 shots, but only three of those were on target and Gary Cahill in particular was a colossus against Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Chelsea’s victory did more than simply earn three points; it showed that City were not invincible; that they could – if you worked hard enough (and Chelsea worked very hard) – be beaten.
So it was intriguing to see what would happen in round two, when Mourinho’s men returned to Manchester for the fifth-round of the FA Cup.
But this time it was Pellegrini who won the day, his tactics nullifying Eden Hazard and his defence impressive from the outset.
This time it was the visitors whose attack was severely restricted, with just three shots and none on target.
So which match was the more important in terms of any psychological advantage in arguably the tightest title race in Premier League history?
That Chelsea went to City and won, their master-plan played out to perfection, was mightily impressive. But that City took that loss and turned it into fuel for revenge speaks volumes for their character.
It should not be underestimated how important the hosts’ unexpected rest was. The postponement of their game against Sunderland gave them a much needed rest that both managers referred to in their post-match comments.
But City showed that they may have been beaten once, but they would be twice as hard to beat a second time. And that is one of the signs of champions.
image: © alfonso jimenez