Branislav Ivanovic’s first-half goal stood up, leading Chelsea to a 1-0 win over Manchester City Monday. In the process it threw the EPL title chase wide-open once again. It’s also the first loss by City at the Eithad Stadium in league play this season and first time the club hasn’t scored at home in 61 league games dating back to 2010.
As a result Arsenal, winners over Crystal Palace on Sunday, remain atop the table on 55 points. Chelsea pulled even with City in second on 53 points. Liverpool, which only mustered a 1-1 draw with West Brom over the weekend, stays in fourth a distant eight points back.
There are 14 rounds of matches remaining. Arsenal gets Liverpool this weekend. The Gunners play Chelsea and Manchester City on back-to-back weekends to close out March. City plays rival Manchester United — now in seventh — and then Arsenal over that period in March. City also still have away games at Liverpool and Everton down the stretch.
Complicating every is the resumption of the Champions League later this month. Arsenal and City have tough draws with Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively. Chelsea gets Galatasaray. More games means all three teams depth will be put to the test, at the moment Chelsea appears to have the healthiest lineup.
Chelsea’s performance vs. City was surprising since under Jose Mourinho the Blues have mostly played close to the vest against top teams away from home, yet came out positive vs. City and their lead was deserved. It was a perfect response from last weekend’s shocking draw with West Ham that left The Special One bemoaning English soccer.
Whether you like Chelsea or not, going to Manchester City and winning 1-0 is arguably the best result so far of the current EPL season.
Admittedly, when City pulled past Arsenal into first place last week I thought it would become a question of not if City would win the title, but by how many points. Monday’s loss to Chelsea is a definite setback. Granted it’s hard to see City dropping that many more points going forward, but without Kun Aguero for a couple more weeks and Fernandinho in central midfield, Manuel Pellegrini’s club is not nearly as imposing. Without Fernandinho, Yaya Toure had the rare poor performance and City, long term, can’t rely on Martin Demichelis playing a holding midfield role.
Throw in the juggling that will occur around the two legs of the Barcelona games and City will hardly be on cruise control.
A wide-open, three-team title chase? Anything is better than a repeat of last season when Manchester United started engraving the title trophy a day or two after Christmas.
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