MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 21: Samir Nasri of Manchester City shoots past Petr Cech of Chelsea to score their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on March 21, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
A compelling finish but above all a vital win. If City had fallen to defeat yesterday the four point deficit to United would have appeared far larger given the doubts that would have pervaded the club. Even a point would have left them with their fingers crossed, hoping for a United defeat, but by taking all three points City are back within striking distance and even have the chance to go back to the top of the Premier League (with a win or draw at Stoke on Saturday) before United next take the field.
Much more than that though is that the manner in which victory was achieved; a come from behind win when hope was draining away could prove to be a key moment in the title race and one that may see City emerge from their recent indifferent form. It was far from a complete performance and familiar recent frustrations were evident but the qualities that United are so lauded for: unity, spirit and a sheer will to win were all instrumental in City completing the comeback.
Roberto Mancini sprang a couple of surprises in his team selection. Out went Stefan Savic (who must have been filled with dread at the prospect of facing off against Didier Drogba) with Micah Richards moving across to the centre to partner Kolo Toure (with Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott still ruled out) and Pablo Zabaleta in at right-back. In midfield, Mancini opted for attack with Samir Nasri in tandem with David Silva behind the front pair of Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero. The biggest talking point of course though was who was named to the bench: one Carlos Tevez. More of him later.
Despite enjoying the better of a bright start to the game (enjoying almost 60% possession through the opening 15 minutes) chances were limited and those that did present themselves were either wasted (Mario Balotelli) or bereft of that touch of luck (Samir Nasri) - a familiar tale in recent weeks where City fashioned chances but unable to convert in the manner of their early season pomp.
Frustrated at the half, Mancini swung the axe. Off came the ineffective Balotelli, replaced by Gareth Barry to bolster the midfield and offer more licence to Nasri and David Silva. First-half frustration gave way to anguish on the hour though as City fell behind (a rarity indeed at The Etihad) to a deflected Gary Cahill shot. There will be concerns over the defending from the corner that led to the goal but it was a surprise that a free kick was not awarded to City for a push by David Luiz on Gareth Barry.
A goal down Mancini made further changes. Off came Silva (for Edin Dzeko), who is struggling to shake off a recent malaise, but prior to that witness the return from the bench of Carlos Tevez, some six months or so from that night in Munich. By no means cheered to the rafters, neither was his introduction met with widespread condemnation from the stands.
With Tevez on the bench there was always a sense that the stage would be at some point set for him. Playing behind Dzeko and Aguero, but ahead of Nasri, it was an interesting role for him. Operating deeper than anticipated in many ways he brought to the game the energy and creative spark usually associated with David Silva. As Mancini said "Carlos is not 100%. But when he plays, he knows where he should take the ball." Tevez's passing numbers were impressive: 21/22 (19/19 in the final third), but his four chances created were the most by any player on the pitch. He also had one shot and of course, one assist - an instinctive but precise touch to return the ball to an on rushing Nasri to chip home what would turn out to be the winner.
A key note from the game was that despite City overwhelmingly scoring more goals in the second half of games - 48 compared to 23 first half goals - they have at times struggled to score ‘game winning' goals late in games. Yesterday's comeback a welcome sign that the side do have the ability to eke out crucial points.
The win was also City's twentieth in succession at home (15 this season and five from 2010/11) - an outright Premier League record and as anticipated this form has sustained their title charge despite failings away from home. There is a danger that after such a performance the following game can witness a flat performance and at this stage of the season there is no margin for error. Stoke has the potential to be a very tricky fixture given City's away struggles but have City found themselves invigorated at precisely the time needed?
Saturday will play a key part in providing the answer.