Manchester City secured victory in a top-of-the-table clash which saw two second half goals for the hosts after Joe Hart had saved a Frank Lampard penalty.
Chelsea were awarded the spot kick at the Etihad Stadium when ‘keeper Hart fouled Demba Ba but the England number one was not cautioned for the offence and went on to save Lampard’s effort. City took the lead just after the hour when Yaya Toure’s neat touch and devastating turn of pace gave him the time to slot home. Carlos Tevez- on as a second half substitute- decided the tie with a spectacular drive from 20-yards late on.
While Chelsea were keen for three points coming into this game in a bid to make-up ground on 2nd placed City, Roberto Mancini’s side were looking to move away from the Blues whilst trying to cut the 15 point deficit made by Manchester United’s win at QPR yesterday. Blues boss Rafael Benitez made a number of changes from the side that drew with Sparta Prague in mid-week; notably latest signing Ba replacing Fernando Torres and Lampard starting in place of Brazilian Oscar.
City started the brighter of the two, Yaya Toure having a shot within a minute of kick-off and his presence in the City midfield is a welcome return having missed much of 2013 playing in the African Cup of Nations. And his early effort appeared to infect his team mates as the hosts went in the hunt of goals.
Sergio Aguero was at the centre of City’s play, often appearing deep to collect the ball and later popping up in dangerous positions. His own attempt to round Petr Cech saw him run out of space at the by line but City had chances through Matija Nastasic, whose goal-bound header was saved and Pablo Zabaleta whose volley after skillful work from Aguero was blocked by Gary Cahill.
Jack Rodwell went close with a long range effort which Cech was forced to tip over and the young Lion went close again heading into the ‘keeper’s arms having met David Silva’s corner. Chelsea on the other hand were failing to contribute much in the way of an attack, and on the rare occasion they managed to get beyond the City defence the threat of Ba was quickly nullified by Kolo Toure.
But the Blues kept the scores level and came out with much more vigour in the second half. With just five minutes played Chelsea were awarded a spot-kick by referee Andre Marriner following a foul on Ba. Branislav Ivanovich’s long diagonal ball set the Senagalese man beyond Toure and the striker just managed to knock the ball away from the on-rushing Hart who made slight contact, despite the ease at which Ba tumbled.
Despite being the last man, Hart was allowed to stay on the pitch, in fact Marriner chose not to caution him at all, presumably deciding Ba’s touch was taking him away from goal. Lampard placed the ball and was just 12 yards away from scoring his 200th goal for Chelsea, however Hart dived the right way much to the joy of the City fans who erupted as though their team had scored.
Moments later Tevez was introduced in place of Rodwell; Mancini clearly looking to capitalise on any self-pity coming from the away side with the Argentinian adding pace, skill and determination to the attack. It was his countryman Aguero who still looked to pose the greatest threat, going close twice before Yaya Toure broke the deadlock.
James Milner found Silva who looked to probe his way into the area, but turning back the Spaniard spotted Toure lurking on the edge of the area. Shaping to shift the ball onto his right side, the Ivorian showed a deft touch to wrong foot two Chelsea players before powering towards goal and coolly slotting home.
It was no more than the Citizens had deserved for their persistent energy and flowing football and as has so often been the case, it was Yaya Toure who made the difference. Unplayable on a bad day, the power-house midfielder has underlined his status as one of the consistent performers in world football whilst in a sky-blue shirt.
Chelsea struggled to find an answer to the Manchester club’s attacking football and despite introducing Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Oscar, the Blues never really looked like equalising as a fourth defeat in as many games at the Etihad loomed.
The game was still a lively affair however and with just minutes remaining City doubled their lead in sensational style and ensured the three points in the process. Tevez received the ball just outside the area and taking a touch the Argentinian struck powerfully towards goal, giving ‘keeper Cech no chance.
It was a disappointing result for Chelsea which followed a very disappointing and rather tame performance. Despite being almost certainly out of the title race themselves, losing such a big game in such a manner of surrender clearly angered the travelling fans as they made their feelings clear toward Benitez with a volley of boos. Unless the Spaniard can bring some joy in the remaining cup competitions, this may be a season Blues fans will be keen to see the back of sooner rather than later.