It was not a game remembered for the football. Sometimes the soap opera takes over the story.
When we look back on Manchester City’s 2009/10 season, what stands out is a late Peter Crouch goal pipping them to the final Champions League spot, or Manchester United winning a League Cup semi-final over their noisy neighbours.
But it was a seminal season for City. It was the season where, despite being knocked back in the final hurdles like a cup semi and what was effectively a Champions League play-off with Spurs, the Blues seemed to announce that they were capable of actually getting that far at all. Failure was, for so long, in City’s DNA, and coming quite so close to breaking down the door didn’t seem like failure at all.
And there were times when the season’s narrative only served to mask the real progress that was being made under Roberto Mancini by the end of the his first half season in charge. Perhaps the game which is most emblematic of that phenomenon is City’s trip to Stamford Bridge in February.
After losing to Manchester United in the League Cup semi-final, Roberto Mancini’s side went on a run of one win in four Premier League games at the start of February. And then came the trip to Chelsea, a big game for lots of reasons.
Perhaps the biggest had nothing to do with football, masking City’s progression under Mark Hughes and then Mancini: and it all came to a head before the kick-off.
After revelations about the private lives of Chelsea captain John Terry and City left-back Wayne Bridge, the pre-match handshake was scrutinised massively. And when the pair didn’t shake hands, the furore was unsurprising.
What happened next, though, was that City came from behind to score four goals, the first in stoppage time at the end of the first half and the rest in the second to seal a 4-2 victory and their second win over Chelsea of the season.
Carlos Tevez scored twice, as did Craig Bellamy, for a City team whose starting XI included eight players who would go on to play crucial roles in the title winning side of 2012. But in 2010, it was just three years since a Stuart Pearce-led City side lost 6-0 at Stamford Bridge. Doing the double over Chelsea clearly marked a step up.
That game may not have announced City as a title contender, though, but it did show that they were a threat that they hadn’t been before. But analysis wasn’t based on that. Instead, the Bridge / Terry handshake, and Bellamy’s announcement after the game that he was unsurprised that Terry wouldn’t shake the City defender’s hand was the story. And because of that, Mancini’s Blues went under the radar somewhat.
City would lose three more times before the end of the season, once fatally to Tottenham. But the moral victory had been gained, and City had made real progress, mostly under the radar.
The next season, they wouldn’t be pipped by Spurs.