Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea: Tevez back to save the day
Published 21:47 21/03/12 By Martin Lipton
You don't have to like him.
In fact, after what he has done, you can't, no matter how Sky Blue your heart is.
Yet here at the Etihad, the man who has stood all season as the stand-out example of everything that is wrong with football helped transform Manchester City in their moment of crisis - and may, just, have changed the direction of the title race.
Roberto Mancini's treatment of Carlos Tevez after the Argentine's act of public insurrection in Munich last September had emboldened the City boss, made him look a bigger man.
It was Tevez who had to come back, cap in hand, tail between his legs, to ask for forgiveness, for another chance - albeit only because nobody would pay City what they wanted for him.
But as City stared into the abyss, looked over the edge, felt the vacuum sucking them in, their season on the verge of becoming a slow-motion car-crash, salvation came at the hands of the man who had done his best to destroy everything Mancini has built.
Six minutes after Gary Cahill swung his right boot for the ball to deflect off Yaya Toure's back-side and past the stranded Joe Hart, Mancini turned to Tevez.
The last time the Argentine was asked to leave the bench, at the Allianz Arena on September 27, his refusal sparked outrage, disgust and the fall-out that cost Tevez a staggering £10million before his belated return to the fold.
This time, the response was very different, even if there were almost as many boos as cheers as he replaced Nigel De Jong.
Instead of truculence, there was desire, fight, determination, a willingness to toil for the team, the colleagues he had deserted, as well as composure.
In short, everything that had made him such a hero, which made his transformation to villain all the more painful for the City fans to endure.
Even Tevez could not claim to be much more than a spectator for the moment that changed the game, as Michael Essien raised his hands to block Pablo Zabaleta's shot, Mike Dean instantly reacting to his assistant's signal.
It was Tevez's replacement as City's favourite Argentine, Sergio Aguero, who smashed home from the spot, his 24th of the season earning parity.
But Tevez still had a key, crucial, decisive part to play, one he did with five minutes on the clock.
Fittingly, the man to benefit - along with Mancini, his team-mates and the vast majority of those inside the Etihad - was Samir Nasri.
For much of the season, plenty of City fans have wondered why Mancini was so keen to land him from Arsenal in the summer, paying £25million for the privilege.
Last night, they saw the answer, as Nasri first tormented Branislav Ivanovic and then, after the Serb departed with a thigh strain, his replacement Jose Bosingwa too.
Nasri twice hit the bar, first with a suberb lofted effort after ghosting onto Yaya Toure's throughball, then, courtesy of Peter Cech's palm, after making Bosingwa look silly.
In between, only an outstanding save by Cech - after Mario Balotelli, with his one positive contribution before his half-time substitution, latched onto Frank Lampard's misplaced pass and strode goalwards - kept Chelsea on terms, although David Luiz, alongside Cahill, was immaculate at the back and Fernando Torres' efforts up front were unstinting.
And when Luiz bullied Gareth Barry from Juan Mata's half-cleared corner to create the opening that brought Cahill's second Chelsea goal in four days - as the two Toures both tried to charged it down - it looked like a first home league defeat since December 2010 and, more crucially, a four point deficit to United.
Aguero's penalty changed that but then, with time running out, the moment that may prove pivotal when the garlands and baubles are handed out in May.
Nasri received from Gael Clichy, pushed on and played in to Tevez, who swiveled and played the perfect return into the Frenchman's path as he strode on to prod past Cech and into the back of the net.
Bedlam. Sheer, unquestioned, bedlam, Nasri the hero but all eyes, all thoughts, directed towards the Prodigal son.
The last few minutes were all about anxiety, nerves, fear.
But City had the lead, had the win, had what they needed. And, now, they have Tevez back too. Which could be absolutely critical.