Majestic Lampard helps Chelsea dish out Manchester City blues
Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1: He may not get back and forth from box-to-box like he once did, he may not score 20 goals in a season again and these days he can’t even get in Chelsea's first XI, but when there is a game to be won from the penalty spot at Stamford Bridge then it really has to be Frank Lampard.
It was only as a second half substitute that Lampard made his entrance last night, taking his last instructions from Andre Villas-Boas with the arm of Chelsea's manager around his waist. Villas-Boas has become the first Chelsea manager in eight years not to pick Lampard for every big game and yet it was Lampard who scored the winner from the penalty spot with eight minutes left to give his 34-year-old boss his most important win yet at the club.
Manchester City's unbeaten run at the top of the Premier League is over and Chelsea have declared themselves as serious title contenders once more, albeit still seven points behind. That they had to come from behind after conceding a goal from Mario Balotelli in the first two minutes was the most emphatic signal that this team and their manager demand to be taken seriously.
They did so against a City team who were reduced to 10 men with Gael Clichy's sending off just before the hour although by then Raul Meireles' goal had already brought the game level.
Within two minutes it looked like City were about to take Villas-Boas' team apart. Balotelli opened the scoring, stood stony-faced in front of the Matthew Harding stand and watched as some of the home support threw their drinks at him.
The Chelsea defence found itself jumbled up and out of place as Sergio Aguero pushed a beautiful ball through their back line with the outside of his foot. Balotelli took it past Petr Cech and squeezed the ball in with only one minutes and 39 seconds elapsed. For Villas-Boas it was a demoralising start.
City might just have finished off the home side, but they didn’t quite develop the momentum to put them away. They were aggrieved that David Silva was not awarded a penalty for a challenge by Branislav Ivanovic after the Serb complacently stuck out a leg for Silva to tumble over. It should have been a penalty.
Chelsea hung on and it was not really until the 25th minute that they forced a proper save out of Joe Hart. Didier Drogba's quick feet down the right channel meant that he had the space to get off a shot, little more than a sidefoot, that the City goalkeeper pushed round the post for a corner.
While they didn’t create a great volume of chances, there was no doubting that Villas-Boas' side had eased their way back into the game when Meireles scored the equaliser. Daniel Sturridge crossed from the right and Meireles came onto the ball volleying it past Hart.
It wasn’t until two minutes before the hour that Clichy was dismissed, but by then Chelsea had already established themselves as the game's dominant team. It was quite a turnaround from the fix they had found themselves in after two minutes and it was about to get worse for City.
Clichy had failed to deal with Sturridge in the first half — it was from the France international's side of the pitch that the Chelsea goal had come from — and his tackle on Ramires was inexcusably poor. He took none of the ball, all of the man and left referee Mark Clattenburg, who had booked him for a foul on Sturridge before the break, with an easy decision.
It forced a major reorganisation from Roberto Mancini and the dynamic of the game altered considerably. In Clichy's absence, Kolo Toure came on at right-back which allowed Pablo Zabaleta to move over to the left. Later the City manager would sacrifice Silva for Nigel De Jong as he tried to shore up the middle. Lampard came on for Meireles as Villas-Boas tried to carve a way through City.
It was Sturridge who won Chelsea's penalty. His shot hit the arm of Joleon Lescott, who foolishly raised his hands and Clattenburg made the right call. After that there was only one choice to tuck a penalty away at the Shed End.
The night's biggest winner was Villas-Boas.
His players might have forgotten his edict to celebrate goals with him, but in the emotion of last night that will hardly have mattered.