City’s Premier League season of snakes and ladders ran headlong into a Boa Constrictor in West London.
But despite a performance full of sharp and incisive football, for the third time on their travels this season they ended up the better side but with no points to show for their efforts.
After Sergio Aguero cancelled out Chelsea’s first half opener with a simply wonderful strike four minutes after the break Manuel Pellegrini’s side was undone by some comic defending in the 90th minute.
There seemed little or no danger when Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic converged on a hopeful punt but - in echoes of what happened at Villa - neither of them made the decisive move and the ball ran free for Fernando Torres to poach the winner.
Earlier on, not aided by some poor dead ball delivery, the Sky Blues found creating chances akin to lighting a cigarette in a hurricane.
No so Chelsea who spurned a couple of early openings – most notably from Cahill and Torres – before the last named atoned for his aberration by skinning Gael Clichy to the by-line and pulling the ball back for Andre Schurrle to opening the scoring in the 33rd minute.
A five-day winning spree in the confines of the Boleyn Ground and amidst the unfamiliar sights and sounds of Russia’s capital is one thing but Stamford Bridge, particularly with Jose Mourinho at the helm, is quite another. Especially when you fall behind.
Having said that, City dominated for long periods and played most of the attractive football. They just found it hard to carve out chances. The best first half opening, though it could hardly be labelled clear cut, fell to Aguero but Petr Cech fisted away his angled drive.
Yaya Toure fired over as much in anger as frustration as expectation as an opening half in which City had most the ball, but Chelsea the chances, came to an end.
Having seen Arsenal and Liverpool continue their early season quickstep at the head of the table and Southampton bounce above in the jostling for position at the summit both City and Chelsea knew that this was game not to lose.
So often these encounters can be scrappy and shapeless and this was certainly cagey at times but enthralling at others.
City are still searching for the tweak in the chemistry that will have the bookies patting themselves on the back for making them favourites to lift the big domestic prize for a second time in three seasons.
Sporadically brilliant this season but at other times defensively clumsy there is clearly nothing basically flawed in Pellegrini’s squad with the away points total in particular doing scant justice to some of the attacking brio on display. This game was a microcosm of that prognosis.
Pellegrini has swapped and changed his starting line up in recent weeks but, the continued absence of defensive colossus and captain Vincent Kompany notwithstanding, a pattern had begun to emerge.
Not here, however, as he plumped for an additional midfielder, Javi Garcia in a more familiar role, to protect a back four that included Martin Demichelis, pitched in at the deep end for his senior debut. Of course that meant fewer options up front where Aguero was asked to play a more isolated role and be the first line of defence.
He performed both roles superbly, his goal from Samir Nasri’s pass a thing of real beauty. So too was the midfield play of David Silva – Cech denied him with his foot at the height of City’s dominance -and Fernandinho.
But it wasn’t enough in the end as defensive frailty continued to negate some wonderful play further up the pitch. Defeat leaves City 7th in the table, one place ahead of United. The top two from last year have work to do