MANCHESTER, February 15 – Stevan Jovetic and Samir Nasri scored as Manchester City reached the FA Cup quarter-finals with a potentially significant 2-0 victory over Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini had been outdone by Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho in the two league meetings between the clubs this season, both of which ended in victories for the London side.
But a convincing FA Cup win redressed the balance, especially as the important second goal was scored by Nasri within moments of the fit-again Frenchman’s introduction by the City manager.
Given the war of words between the rival managers in the wake of Chelsea’s 1-0 league win at the Etihad last week, it was no surprise that the game opened in cagey fashion.
James Milner was charged with nullifying Chelsea’s chief playmaker Eden Hazard, with Nemanja Matic performing a similar task on City’s Yaya Toure.
But the tie opened up in the 15th minute when Jovetic clipped the crossbar and just 60 seconds later he handed City the lead.
The first chance came from Toure’s 20-yard shot, which Petr Cech spilled in the Chelsea goal only to watch, relieved, as Jovetic clipped the rebound against the woodwork and over.
Within a minute, however, Jovetic made amends with a precise finish after sharp, accurate passes across midfield by David Silva and Edin Dzeko enabled him to score with a low drive in off the far post.
The Montenegrin’s strike marked the end of a two-game ‘goal drought’ for free-scoring City after they failed to net in that home league defeat by Chelsea and a 0-0 draw at Norwich City.
Chelsea had to respond and full-back Branislav Ivanovic did so with a surging run down to the byline and a low cross that was saved, unconvincingly at the second attempt, by Costel Pantilimon.
Toure chanced his arm again from 20 yards, but this time his effort drifted well wide, before Silva and Jovetic set up Dzeko for a curling shot that Cech did well to parry away with a spectacular dive.
Hazard was finally starting to exert an influence for the visitors as he carved out two half-chances that were wasted by Ramires and Willian, while a free-kick he earned later in the half came to nothing.
Instead, the first period concluded with City threatening again, with Milner’s committed right-wing run culminating in a cross that Dzeko almost turned into the net.
– Nasri returns in style –
Mourinho was forced into action and Mohamed Salah and Fernando Torres were thrown into the fray before the hour was out, but it was Pellegrini’s substitution that proved decisive.
The City manager brought on Nasri for his first taste of action following a five-week lay-off with a knee ligament injury and it took the French international only six minutes to kill off the contest.
Nasri surged from midfield into the Chelsea penalty area and exchanged tidy passes with Silva before collecting the return ball and calmly doubling City’s lead from close range.
Joleon Lescott also had the ball in the Chelsea net, from a Nasri corner, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
Chelsea, meanwhile, failed to create a chance of note until a late flurry in the closing minutes, but Matic was easily stopped by the home defence after latching onto a dangerous pass from Oscar.
They were rare openings in a half that offered little in the way of entertainment, for the neutral at least, but that will have offered Pellegrini and City renewed belief in their ability to overhaul Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.