Chelsea has had an astonishing return to form during the past two weeks, with wins over Newcastle, Valencia, and now Manchester City. The three consecutive wins has seen them go through to the Champions League knockout stages at the top of their group and seen their return to the third position in the English Premier League table.
The early stages of yesterday’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City did not go as Chelsea had planned. It took less than two minutes for Manchester City to find the net. Mario Balotelli was played in on goal after a fantastic dribbling display and even better pass from Sergio Aguero. After the Italian striker found himself in on goal he successfully eluded keeper Peter Cech and Branislav Ivanovic to slot home the game’s opening goal.
The disaster start for Chelsea continued throughout the opening fifteen minutes of the match, with City dominating in attack while Chelsea looked unable to string together more than a couple passes. City’s attack continued during this opening period, aided by some errant Chelsea passing, but ultimately proved fruitless.
As the game closed in on the half hour mark, Chelsea looked to have regained their senses and was now attacking with regularity. Didier Drogba tried several shots from distance, but was unable to find the mark and Ramires’ surging runs came more frequently. Just after the half hour mark the game changed when Daniel Sturridge found some space on the right side, dribbled into the box, broke down City’s Gael Clichy with some dazzling footwork, and delivered a bullet cross to Raul Meireles who hammered it home for the equalizer.
That goal changed the game as Chelsea immediately began dropping deeper to contain the Man City attack that can be overwhelming at times. City was struggling to cope with Chelsea as the first half drew to a close.
The second half began with Gael Clichy receiving a yellow card for holding back Daniel Sturridge who again found himself space on the right side. Mata’s role in the game increased in the early stages of the second half as well and Chelsea was beginning to find more space during their attack. It would take just thirteen minutes for these attacks to pay dividends when Gael Clichy earned his second yellow card for a lazy challenge on Ramires.
The next ten minutes saw Chelsea squander several opportunities to test the Manchester City backline. Roberto Mancini elected to sub off Sergio Aguero for defender Kolo Toure. Chelsea elected to use one of their substitutions to bring on Frank Lampard for goal scorer Raul Meireles. Andre Villas-Boas urged his players to attack and his team responded.
In the 82nd minute, Daniel Sturridge again found space, cut inside from the right and fired a shot that struck the raised arm of Joleon Lescott. The referee blew the whistle and pointed to the penalty spot. Frank Lampard stepped up to the penalty spot and after a short discussion with Juan Mata blasted the ball down the center past the diving Joe Hart to give Chelsea the 2-1 lead. He rushed over to celebrate with the raucous Chelsea crowd that was delighted to see their hero deliver the go ahead goal.
The last few minutes of the match proved to be a frustrating affair for Manchester City as Chelsea was content to maintain possession and let the clock run down. After some trickery from Didier Drogba, the final whistle blew and Chelsea held their ground for a victory at Stamford Bridge. The defeat was the first of the season for Manchester City who still hold the top spot in the Premier League.
Chelsea’s return to form comes at the expense of some of its prized possessions. Andre Villas-Boas seems to have found a starting formation and squad the work after an early season full of experimenting. That formation includes new signings Raul Meireles and Oriel Romeu starring in the midfield, but this comes at the expense of seasoned Chelsea veterans like the beloved Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel. Ramires has really found a role similar to the injured Michael Essien, with surging runs forward that are essential to Chelsea’s attack.
While much has been made of AVB leaving both Alex and Nicolas Anelka (and Anelka’s transfer to Shanghai) out of senior squad training, even more questions are being asked of Frank Lampard’s role in AVB’s squad. Lampard has played well in recent matches, but has expressed his displeasure at being substituted and does not appear to enjoy the role of being a substitute. Today Lampard said that he is willing to see out the remaining 18 months on his contract and fight for a place in the starting XI.
With Sturridge, Mata, and Drogba up front, Chelsea has a new found flair in their attack. Spectacular play from Mata has allowed Didier Drogba to regain his form that had dipped early in the season. Sturridge has played very well for Chelsea on the right side, earning himself a goal in the Newcastle match while having his hand in the two scored against City. As a result of this preferred selection, Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou have also found themselves in roles similar to Lampard. It will be interesting to see if Villas-Boas’ commitment to injecting the side with young players will continue as the season progresses or if he will decide to stick with the golden generation that has brought Chelsea its past glory.
JT and Super Frank get the background for their loving embrace.