Chelsea’s comfortable 2-0 win over Manchester City, helped the Blues’ pile the pressure on their opponents great rivals, as Manchester United could only draw 2-2 with Middlesbrough. The result sees Chelsea close to within three points of United at the top of the table, having seemingly shaken off the challenge of Arsenal in 3rd place.
Avram Grant made six changes from the side that played in Turkey, Juliano Belletti, Alex, John Obi Mikel, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka all started for Chelsea, whilst Carlo Cudicini again deputised in goal.
The home side were able to welcome back their entire left side, Michael Ball and Martin Petrov returning, whilst new striker Benjani would lead the line, ably supported by Brazilian midfielder Elano, a revelation since his move to Eastlands in the summer.
Chelsea started the match very brightly, and it wasn’t just their jerseys. Michael Essien powered forward in midfield before feeding Anelka wide right, who hit a low, hard first time cross that looked destined to find the Ghanaian in the box. City captain Richard Dunne though, was the man that poked the cross past goalkeeper Joe Hart, to give Chelsea the lead, however it was cruel luck on the Irishman as Essien looked destined to score had he not intervened. Nonetheless, it was the early lead Chelsea so desired.
Both sides were keen to play passing football, although Chelsea seemed the more likely to grab a second goal. On 20 minutes, Gelson Fernandes cut inside and shot powerfully with his left foot, only for his long range effort to fly straight to Carlo Cudicini.
Frank Lampard broke clear after a slip from Fernandes on the Chelsea left, his eventual shot only finding the side netting with Hart scrambling. On the half hour, Cudicini made a fantastic save, as he tipped over Petrov’s scorching 30 yard shot. The City midfielder cut inside from the right and wound up a vicious drive that was heading for the top corner, only for Chelsea’s Italian goalkeeper to show off the agility that once made him the Premiership’s best goalkeeper, as he flew high to his left to fingertip the ball over the crossbar.
A minute later, Ashley Cole rescued Chelsea, as Michael Johnson’s shot was deflected off Alex and past Cudicini, only for the left back to station himself perfectly on the line to complete the clearance. Chelsea could be pleased to take a 1-0 lead into the break.
The first action of note in the second stanza, was Avram Grant’s decision to replace the poor Shaun Wright-Phillips, with Joe Cole. Unfortunately for the former City flyer, he was unable to make an impression on his return to his former club.
Two minutes later, Chelsea put the game to bed and it was the Ivorian winger Kalou who got the goal. Essien slipped a delightful ball through City’s static defence, Kalou showing the utmost composure to round Hart and finish.
By now, Chelsea were rampant, and the in form Anelka nearly added a third moments later. Frank Lampard dinked in a beautiful cross that the Frenchman headed towards goal, only for England u-21 star Hart to arch back and tip the ball onto the bar. The ball then bounced into his back and trickled towards the goal line, forcing Hart to then scramble the ball clear from the prowling Anelka. Both goalkeepers were showing top form throughout the match.
Darius Vassell and Caicedo were both sent on as Manchester City looked to salvage something from the game, a move countered late on by Grant as Ferreira replaced Belletti.
In the last minute of stoppage time, yet another long range effort from Petrov went close, but Cudicini remained solid and kept it out.
Coupled with United’s failure to win on Teeside, this fixture proved to be a valuable three points for Chelsea, as with Liverpool’s draw with Arsenal, the Blues are now just three points off the top of the table and will surely have Sir Alex Ferguson looking over his shoulder as the title race draws to a close.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Cudicini; Belletti (Ferreira 86), Alex, Terry (c), A Cole; Mikel, Essien, Lampard; Wright-Phillips (Cole 52), Anelka, Kalou.
Manchester City (4-1-3-1-1) Hart; Corluka, Onuoha, Dunne (c), Ball; Fernandes; Ireland (Caicedo 76), Johnson, Petrov; Elano (Vassell 66); Benjani.