MANCHESTER, England -- "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, was 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 that simply does not lose at home - Jose Mourinho preferred instead to list all the games Chelsea has 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 through the excellent Hazard and industrious Ramires. But that takes nothing away from the rest of the Chelsea boys. This was a statement win from Mourinho's side.
Chelsea is "evolving" goes his now familiar refrain. Keep saying it Jose and you might start to believe it. The wry smile on his face as he delivered the message, however, suggests otherwise.
"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 needs to stop beating the title contenders or it might just be mistaken for one itself.
There was a lingering perception that Chelsea would do to Manchester City as West Ham did to it last week; spoil the match and stop City playing. Half right. Chelsea spoiled nothing; the team was brilliant in every department. But it 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 has its own Cristiano Ronaldo as Mourinho had at Real Madrid. "Ronaldo and Messi are Ronaldo and Messi," proffered Jose. "I keep saying he has to improve. He needs to have his feet on the ground."
Vital for a team that cedes possession like Chelsea did at City is a player who not only carries the ball and buys time for the other 10, but who can affect proceedings when sought. The dexterous Belgian toyed with City's back four. He nullified Pablo Zabaleta's threat to counterattack through his very existence. Those two players in particular, wide of the midfield duo, gave Manuel Pellegrini discomfort. He favors sending Zabaleta and Aleksandr Kolarov forward at every available opportunity. Although Ramires and Hazard did not always track them back, they were nonetheless ready to carry the ball forward into the unoccupied territory as soon as City surrendered it.
City, instead, failed to consistently go behind Chelsea and hurt it with meaningful attacks. Only three times did City 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 playground of David Silva.
City is still, probably, the favorite 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 is beatable - even at home after a run of 11 wins in 12. When the club is described in superhuman terms, it serves only to highlight the flaws in the opposition around the Premier League. All too quick to make excuses and write off a visit to the Etihad.
Mourinho, to his credit, gave City its due in the build-up and said that Chelsea would try to win the match if it 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 fervor remains undiminished. "We love the big games," he said. "When you love it, you feel extra motivated." Chelsea has blown the title race wide open. Let us know when you're ready to admit that much Jose.
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