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Ivanovic screamer sends Blues seven points clear


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Branislav Ivanovic netted a wondergoal as Chelsea capitalised on a slip-up by defending champions Manchester City to open up a SEVEN point lead at the top of the Premier League.

José Mourinho, who had never before previously won at Villa Park as the Blues' boss, saw his side take an early lead when Eden Hazard deftly finished from Willian's exquisite eye-of-the-needle pass.

Villa responded immediately after the break when Jores Okore headed in from close range - and that goal was their first in 659 minutes of Premier League football as the Blues were punished for falling into a trap of complacency after taking the lead.

But Chelsea - a well-oiled machine that only ever seems to up a gear when it is absolutely necessary - rallied and secured three vital points when Ivanovic quite magnificently struck Cesar Azpilicueta's cross into the top corner on the half-volley mid-way through the second half.

With City hosting bottom-half opponents in a hapless Hull City side that was royally stuffed by Newcastle last weekend, a first win here since Frank Lampard overtook Bobby Tambling's record of 202 Chelsea goals was the only acceptable outcome for Mourinho and his charges.

Chelsea would have expected the gap to be at five points by full-time should they secure victory; instead the gap has been extended to seven after City somehow failed to beat Steve Bruce's side, who had taken a frankly pathetic eight points from their last ten fixtures.

The lead at the top might have been even greater were it not for James Milner's excellent stoppage time free-kick which at least prevented Manuel Pellegrini's side from suffering another home defeat to sub-par opposition.

In a day of positives for the Blues, Juan Cuadrado was also showcased in the final quarter of an hour as he gave the raucous travelling support a brief cameo of his electric pace and dribbling abilities - whilst even greater delight can be taken from managerless Queens Park Rangers losing at home against third-placed Southampton in added time.

The celebrations in front of those Chelsea supporters after both Ivanovic's stunning goal and the full-time whistle sums up the magnitude of this game.

A seven-point advantage, however, is not decisive. Even when added to Chelsea's superior goal difference value - +33 compared to City's +23 - that gap is not insurmountable, but with eight of the Blues' fourteen remaining matches to be played at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho will be more than satisfied with his team's present lead.

The tone for an entertaining game at Villa Park was set when Hazard swept the Blues ahead after just seven minutes. Oscar advanced down the Chelsea right, played in Willian, who demonstrated the appropriate vision to thread it through to the marauding Hazard. The Belgian did not disappoint with his skilful finish beyond Brad Guzan.

Whilst there was plenty of toing and froing, both sides failed to exhibit much penetration in the final third despite the game continuing to open up as the half wore on. Gabby Agbonlahor headed over Villa's best effort - though "best" may be too strong a word - whilst Oscar drew a fine tip over from Villa's American goalkeeper.

The first half meandered towards a relatively drab conclusion, but the game exploded back into life when Okore headed Villa level after their positive start to the second period.

But from that point onwards, there was only to be one winner - and that was supplied by the left boot of Ivanovic, who so effortlessly thrashed a raking half-volley beyond Guzan and into the proverbial postage stamp.

Cuadrado entered the pitch late on for his first taste of Premier League football in place of the excellent Willian - whose performance today will move towards vindicating the decision to sell Andre Schurrle to Wolfsburg in midweek.

Click here to see footage of Ivanovic's stunning winner!

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