Chelsea thrashed Manchester City 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, to move within four points of league leaders Manchester United. The one goal victory was a drubbing, a shellacking and utterly comprehensive. Chelsea annihilated their opponents with their solitary goal, and outclassed their rivals to win by an entire goal.
Ricardo Carvalho was fit again and returned in place of Alex at centre back, whilst John Obi Mikel was deservedly rested, though surprisingly it was Ballack who played deeper in midfield, allowing Essien and Lampard to play further forward. Deco played tucked in on the left, likewise Anelka on the right, and the in form Drogba led the line.
Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips returned to warm applause from the Chelsea faithful, though the reception was decidedly frostier for Robinho, having snubbed Chelsea in the summer. The crowd needn’t have bothered jeering his every touch, such was the ineptitude of his performance.
Chelsea thought they’d taken the lead inside two minutes, when Frank Lampard had the ball in the back of the net, only for the linesman to correctly call that he was offside. The same player delivered a corner soon after, however the returning Carvalho should have done better given the time and space he was allowed in the City area.
City though, were not showing any promising signs in attack, and it was no surprise when after 17 minutes, Chelsea took the lead. Of perhaps more surprise, was that the scorer was the born again Michael Essien, scoring in consecutive games, his first two starts in six months.
Pablo Zabaleta left the Chelsea midfielder unmarked on the edge of the area, where Lampard picked him out. He looped the finish “quite brilliantly” over Shay Given, at least according to Jon Champion. However, the replay showed that it was in fact a world class shank from Essien, the ball slicing off his shin and into the net. He didn’t care, and neither did his teammates, joining the midfielder in an ecstatic celebration.
Just beyond the half hour mark, Chelsea were denied by the every dodgy Mike Riley, who turned away a penalty appeal. Nedum Onuoha, outstanding otherwise, appeared to bring down Anelka in the area, without so much as getting a touch on the ball. Referee Riley though, waved away the protestations of the Frenchman, and play continued.
Moments later, brilliant football from Chelsea resulted in an opportunity, though spurned. The industrious Ballack won the ball from Stephen Ireland, before playing the ball to Lampard. The Chelsea vice-captain slid in Didier Drogba, whose swift backheel found Ballack, who’d continued his run from deep. Under pressure, the German placed his shot wide, though the move still drew claps of admiration from the crowd.
Just before half time, the ever popular Juliano Belletti replaced the injured Deco, who may be out for the rest of the season with a recurring hamstring injury. Chelsea negotiated stoppage time and took a one goal lead into the interval.
Didier Drogba was prevented from shooting by a last ditch Onuoha challenge, before Anelka fizzed a 20 yarder wide. Given then made an excellent save to deny Drogba, who had been set up by the again impressive Bosingwa.
Exceptional interplay from Lampard and Essien saw the latter smash a shot narrowly wide, before Caicedo was replaced by Evans, as the visiting side looked to find a foothold in the match. Etuhu replaced Elano, but not before the adaptable Juliano Belletti struck the post from long range on his left foot. The versatile Brazilian had again played well, occupying the wide right role delegated to Essien in Turin.
Florent Malouda made an appearance for Chelsea, replacing Drogba, who was carrying a slight knock. Anelka moved to the middle, and Malouda played wide left, his positional excellence allowing Ashley Cole to play a more prominent attacking role.
With ten minutes remaining, Mark Hughes replaced Robinho, to more jeers from the Chelsea faithful. Valeri Bojinov was his replacement. The striker did force Cech to make a save, one which the Chelsea keeper held comfortably. Malouda could only shoot into the side netting when well placed, before having a shot cleared off the line late on by Richard Dunne, with Given beaten.
The Blues safely saw out the remainder of the match, a sixth win in seven matches in charge for “Aussie Guus” Hiddink, and a fourth consecutive league victory. With Liverpool winning 4-1 at Old Trafford the day previous, Chelsea move to within striking distance of the league leaders, though Ferguson’s side have a game in hand. Chelsea though are fighting onwards, with next up a trip to Tottenham, and a possible meeting with Chelsea legend Carlo Cudicini.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien, Ballack, Lampard; Anelka, Drogba (Malouda 70), Deco (Belletti 40).
Manager Guus Hiddink.
Man City (4-1-4-1): Given; Richards, Dunne (c), Onuoha, Bridge; Zabaleta; Wright-Phillips, Elano (Etuhu 65), Ireland, Robinho (Bojinov 80); Caicedo (Evans 54).
Manager Mark Hughes.
Referee Mike Riley.