Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Title race wide open again and AVB’s Chelsea job is safe

It's game on in the Premier League title race. Manchester City aren't invincible in England after all. And Chelsea have become a force again.

What a difference a week makes.

It's been a shocking one for City and superb for Chelsea.

Roberto Mancini's men were knocked out of the Champions League and last night they were knocked out of what appeared to be their confident stride towards championship glory.

In contrast Chelsea stayed in Europe's biggest competition after beating Valencia and followed it up by becoming the first team to inflict defeat on City thanks to a late penalty from that 33-year-old comeback kid Frank Lampard.

AVB's job is getting safer by the match. A few more setbacks like this 2-1 loss and the pressure will mount on Mancini.

Today City's big gap at the top of the table has gone. They sit just two points ahead of Manchester United and seven clear of Spurs and Chelsea, who have moved menacingly into third.

Blue Moon rising, they claimed after thumping United 6-1 at Old Trafford. More like temperature rising. The heat is well and truly on big spending City now.

Indeed by the time Mancini's side play next — at home to Arsenal on Sunday — they could be in second place behind United if, as expected, they win at QPR a few hours before.

A story written in the stars for Lampard helped Chelsea to their best victory of their season, but City should have wrapped the game up in the first half hour, when it's no exaggeration to say they played like Barcelona, pressing high up the pitch forcing Chelsea into mistakes and then pinging the ball all around Stamford Bridge in the slickest of fashion on the slickest of surfaces.

The passing was intricate and incisive, yet amazingly for all their dominance they were only one up with the beautifully balanced Sergio Aguero creating a delightful early goal for Mario Balotelli.

Apart from a few more goals, City should also have had a penalty when David Silva was fouled in the box.

They can blame referee Mark Clattenburg for that, but City were totally at fault when their defence fell asleep allowing Raul Meireles to equalise giving Chelsea belief.

If City lacked a clincal edge in the first half, they lacked discipline in the second with Gael Clichy rightly sent off and then Joleon Lescott handling Daniel Sturridge's shot in the area with just eight minutes left.

Lampard, substituted after missing a penalty against Newcastle, and not playing at all against Valencia, was on from the bench. He did not shirk the challenge of the spot-kick confidently blasting the ball home. His Chelsea future remains in doubt, but he proved he still has the bottle for the big occasion.

We'll now find out if City possess the same character which will be required to go on and win the title.

Belfast Telegraph

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