In the end it was a comfortable three points, but there was a 20-minute spell in the first half when we were just hanging on and you could see us being in another 4-4 draw. But we eventually established midfield dominance, especially after the sad SWP was put out of his misery shortly after half time.
With all the focus on Avram Grant’s every move, he passed the test here with a line-up good enough to win while keeping an eye on next Tuesday. He made the substitutions at the right time, although you could argue our other under-performer Belletti could have come off earlier. But Grant seemed anxious to win emphatically and we might well have if not for some bad luck and bad finishing.
We had the best possible start when Richard Dunne put into his own net from an Anelka cross that might well have been converted by Essien without the City centre back’s intervention. Perhaps the early goal contributed to the strange atmosphere at City of Manchester Stadium where only about two choruses of Blue Moon were heard all afternoon and it was our fans that could be heard clearly.
We scored early against both Boro and Fenerbahce and failed to press home the advantage and it seemed the same would happen here as City made our defence look decidedly uneasy without ever really opening us up. A poor defensive header by Belletti presented Johnson with a great chance that he spurned and Cudicini had to make a very good save from a Petrov long-ranger.
At the other end, we looked fluid and dangerous each time we attacked, which wasn’t that often, and Kalou sent a pathetic shot well over the bar after being set up wonderfully inside the box. Anelka was a constant threat to the City defence and only the speed of Onouha, possibly the quickest player in the league, prevented Anelka from going one on one with goalkeeper Hart.
The second half was a different story after Joe Cole came on for SWP, who showed his former fans just how uncertain and technically limited he has become at Chelsea. Cole didn’t doing anything terribly special, but at least he kept attacks going, something SWP wasn’t able to do.
Essien’s deflected through ball allowed Kalou to round Hart for the second goal and moments later Anelka was clean through on the goalie, but robbed by Hart’s outstretched hand as the Frenchman tried to round him. Then Anelka headed a Lampard cross goal-wards only to see Hart tip it onto the underside of the bar and then clear from the goal line just as Anelka arrived for a tap-in.
From then on we looked totally comfortable and drew back waiting for the chance to hit City on the break. We would have done so too if the linesman’s flag hadn’t gone up so often against Anelka.
At times our transition through midfield was as smooth as it has been all season with Anelka’s movement confusing the City centre backs and opening holes all along their back line. We could and should have scored more, but if we were saving up for Tuesday and take our chances then no one will complain.
CUDICINI – 7. One very good save and tidy stuff apart from that. Still remains one of the best backup keepers in the Premiership.
BELLETTI – 4.5. Yes, he is dangerous going forward, but he’s also dangerous going backwards. His tendency to bomb forward means we are in trouble if we lose the ball in midfield, but even if he is back, your heart is in your mouth if he has no cover because virtually any winger can get by him.
ALEX – 7. Uncertain early on — who wouldn’t be with Belletti the other defender on your side? Grew in confidence as the game went on and formed a solid barrier against anything City tried.
TERRY – 6. Never completely comfortable against Benjani, perhaps because he was aware that without Carvalho he couldn’t allow himself to be exposed in a foot race.
A. COLE – 7. Raided forward well and defended comfortably. But does anyone else worry about his technique in confined spaces? He is so reliant on his left foot that the angles become limited.
MIKEL – 7. Doesn’t read the game anywhere near as well as Makelele, but he is so cultured on the ball that we seem able to spring into counter-attack mode better with him.
ESSIEN – 8. Thought he was our best performer – always available for a pass and up and down the field non-stop. His strength put Onuoha out of the game with what looked like a dislocated shoulder, but it was a fair challenge and set up a great chance for us. Seemed happy to have such a free role.
LAMPARD – 7. Linked play well and seemed to play further forward than usual. Got into good positions, but never really had a good sight of goal.
SWP – 4. Most of our attacks came to grief when the ball was played to him because his technique is so poor. He played on the right and contributed next to nothing before he was pulled off 5 minutes after half time, ironically just after his only good cross of the match.
KALOU – 7. Had lots of room to show his speed and control and took his goal calmly, which is more than can be said for his wild shot when well-placed in the first half.
ANELKA – 7.5 Would have been man of the match if he hadn’t been offside so often. His darting runs always had City in trouble. Won’t face a defender faster than him again this season as he did here with Onuoha, who twice recovered to make up ground on him when slipped through on goal.
J.COLE (52 mins for SWP) – 6. Replaced the missing link in our attack without ever displaying all his art.
FERREIRA (85 for Belletti) – n/a. Sealed the only hole that City had to get back into the game.