Verdict: Chelsea 2 Manchester City 4
Goals: Lampard 41, 90 (pen) for Chelsea. Tevez 45+1, 76 (pen), Bellamy 51 , 87 for City.
Team Bridge triumphed over John Terry’s Chelsea thanks to determined defending, a return to form for Craig Bellamy and a return to the side by our new talisman, Carlos Tevez. This was a stunning result, the best of the season so far, and one to restore belief in our Champions League quest.
Mancini sprung no great surprises in the starting eleven. Kompany returned to the back four, in the central defensive pairing with Lescott which most fans seem to agree is our best. There’s more sympathy for Nedum Onuoha than Kolo Toure, who were both on the bench.
Zabaleta was again in central midfield to further stifle Chelsea, alongside de Jong and Barry. After 120 minutes at Stoke on Wednesday, it was a slight surprise to see Bellamy start the game. Doubts about Carlos Tevez’s fitness proved groundless in the extreme.
After the great non-handshake had passed, the game could start and City continued from where they had left off against Liverpool. Concentration and not conceding were the order of the day. Unfortunately Chelsea’s attacking options aren’t so easy to subdue, and half-chances were created.
Kompany and Lescott stood up to Drogba and it was the roaming Anelka who caused the most problems. With a couple of clumsy challenges, Micah Richards looked a little jaded from the mid-week exertions.
Bellamy and Johnson weren’t pushing forward to test the Chelsea back-line, though Tevez was doing his best. When he did get the ball, Johnson was quickly crowded out and seemed to struggle for his footing on a poor pitch.
Just when it looked like we were going to get through to half-time, Frank Lampard’s movement caught out Kompany for what looked like a crucial breakthrough. Up till this point we hadn’t looked like achieving four shots, let alone four goals.
Tevez and the Chelsea defence had other ideas. Chelsea looked set to score a second before Bridge hoofed it clear to set Tevez on his merry way, courtesy of Mikel’s not so clever header. The movement of Tevez towards, then away from Mikel forced his error.
From then on Carvalho, Terry and Hilario took it in turns to be outwitted. The way the ball trickled over the line looked particularly excruciating from a Chelsea perspective. In native American parlance it could be said El Apache had triumphed over the Mohican of Terry.
With the home side still in shock, Lescott’s free header from a Bellamy free-kick nearly had us going in ahead at the break – which would have constituted larceny on the grandest scale.
If the first forty minutes were instantly forgettable, then the second half was one to be savoured for a long time to come. Chelsea must have considered our first goal an aberration as they piled forward to regain the lead. That can be the only reason for leaving just one defender and Mikel back when City broke for our second.
One positive that was overlooked from the Stoke match on Wednesday was Bellamy getting on the scoresheet. His attacking play has been relatively poor of late and the goals had dried up. Maybe, the Stoke goal restored his confidence as he brought back memories of his second at Old Trafford.
Once again he sprinted down the flank before slotting the ball into the net. This time putting the ball across the keeper rather than rounding him. It was equally sweet.
Chelsea were stunned but unlikely to throw the towel in. We looked all set to grind our way to victory so it was pleasant surprise to see Barry winning the ball high up the pitch and driving into the Chelsea area.
The foul for the penalty bordered on comical. Belletti may claim he didn’t realise just how slow Barry was as he ran into the back of the England man. Like Hamann before him, our Gareth used his years of experience to position himself between opponent and ball, and duly went to ground to make the referee’s job as easy as possible.
Tevez broke with his habit of slamming the penalty down the middle and slammed it into the corner instead. Even Bridge was dragged into the celebration.
Wayne, whose leg had been heavily strapped from the start, departed shortly afterwards and Mancini surprisingly brought on Santa Cruz. Sylvinho would have been the more obvious replacement, so Mancini was making a tactical shift here.
With Zabaleta dropping to left-back we switched to a 4-4-2, albeit with Tevez sitting deeper. Rather than simply defend our way through to full-time, we were looking to stretch Chelsea and give them more to think about defensively. It was a statement of more progressive tactics by Mancini in the second half.
Michael Ballack did his best to ease our nerves with a reckless challenge on Tevez that saw him pick up a second yellow. Tevez then released Wright-Phillips, who did the simple things correctly in sprinting into the area and crossing for Bellamy to tap home.
Shaun looked sharp and benefitted from coming on when there was space to exploit, in contrast to Johnson who had been given precious little room to manouvre. Having these two players vying for the right-wing slot is a welcome bit of competition within the squad.
Chelsea continued to pile forward as best they could, with Anelka continuing to cause problems. His penalty “foul” was as soft as that for Barry, but fortunately it came to late to matter. It’s credit to Chelsea’s attack that at no point were we ever entirely comfortable. The sight of Given berating his team-mates till the last told us as much.
“I know what JT is like and nothing surprises me about it, so I’m not going to comment on that. I think everybody in football knows what the guy is like, but that’s off the field.
“On it he’s an outstanding player. He’s a great captain for Chelsea. It’s always going to be difficult when you play him and his team.”
With attention focussed on Wayne Bridge, the truly inspirational performance came from Tevez who had only flown in to London from Argentina the day before. He constantly took the game to Chelsea and seemed to inspire those around him – Bellamy in particular.
El Apache plays the lone striker role remarkably well for someone lacking height and having no great pace. To often such a player can be the victim of little professional fouls from the likes of Terry and Carvalho and the referee deserves credit for spotting most of them.
Fabio Capello may also have noted the best England defender on show was Joleon Lescott. With Rio’s back troubles, Joleon could be quietly playing his way into England’s starting 11 for the World Cup.
Ultimately the difference in this match lay in City’s defence being committed and focused all game, whereas Ancelotti’s back-line made a host of errors.