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Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City


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Chelsea F.C. 1-0 Manchester City

Sunday 15 March 2009, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, West London

Michael Essien evades the challenges of Robinho and Wayne Bridge.

Michael Essien scored his second goal in as many games to earn Chelsea a vital victory in the Premier League.

With Liverpool beating Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday, the result sees the Blues cut the lead over the Champions to four points whilst going ahead of Liverpool thanks to their superior goal difference. And with Michael Essien finding the back of the net once again after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury, it is clear for all to see that under Guus Hiddink, Chelsea mean business.

For the first time since January, Chelsea were able to call up Portuguese duo Ricardo Carvalho and Anderson Deco, and the aforementioned Essien made his first appearance in the Premier League since August. John Mikel Obi was demoted to the bench as Michael Ballack began the match in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role with Frank Lampard playing on the left of a three-man midfield.

And it was the England star who bossed the opening periods of the game, only to see his strike after just 78 seconds ruled out for offside. The Stamford Bridge crowd were furious with the decision but replays indicated the linesman was correct to flag Lampard, who had strayed beyond the City backline. Nevertheless, it was still a massive let off for the Northerners, who were clearly second best to some exceptional early movement from the hosts.

Some neat interplay between Deco, Essien, Ballack and Lampard saw the opposition defence torn apart on more than one occasion, and another combination between the midfielders led to Chelsea's next opportunity. Ballack passed to Essien, who exchanged passes with Deco and Drogba, but Nedum Onouha cleared. A series of corners presented the hosts with a number of chances, but the best was squandered when Ricardo Carvalho headed over inside the 6 yard box.

The opening fifteen minutes had held a lot of promise for Chelsea, who were enjoying the lion's share of possession and showing the more creativity going forward, with the highly-influential Michael Essien at the heart of every move. The Ghanaian, who has endured a tough season due to injury, was keen to show his determination to enjoy every minute on the pitch before the final whistle, and his incredible athleticism, combined with his tenacious tackling and admirable attitude were key to what would be an invaluable Chelsea win, when he found the back of the next on 19 minutes.

Lampard won a freekick inside the City half, and wasted no time in quickly threading the ball through to Essien, who was stood at the edge of the penalty area. A deft half-volleyed finish from the 18-yard line saw the ball loop over the stranded Shay Given for a deserved opening goal that both Essien's and Chelsea's performance warranted. Whilst having shown his desire and attacking instinct with his equaliser against Juventus in Turin on Tuesday and then his first goal in the Premier League since April, the Chelsea number 5 demonstrated he still maintains his reputation of being one of the best midfielders in the world when he stole the ball from Elano with a crunching challenge.

Felipe Caicedo had City's most promising chance but shot wide after Wayne Bridge's cross into the tall forward saw him fire wide with Chelsea defenders bearing down on him. The Blues might have had a penalty when Anelka was felled in the box, but to the bemusement of many inside the stadium, no decision was awarded, despite Onouha clearly impeding the French international. Some incisive passing saw Ballack play a brilliant pass to Lampard, who fed the ball to Drogba who in turn played Ballack through, but the German's shot was inches wide. Ballack's elusive first Premier League goal was still yet to come, but it was still a sign of Chelsea's attacking excellence.

After Bosingwa cleared off the line from Robinho, there was a slight change in set up as Deco went off with what appeared to be a hamstring strain. Belletti replaced him and went to the right of the front three, with Anelka heading to the opposite flank. The latter launched a superb effort from range after Essien's disguised pass found him in space 30 yards out, and only a superb challenge from Onouha denied Drogba a clear sight of Given's goal.

Lampard played a brilliant pass to Bosingwa as the Blues emerged in good mood for the second half, and the Portuguese defender immediately passed to Drogba, who was denied at the death by a superb reflex save from Given. The former Newcastle goalkeeper was keeping his side in the game but Chelsea dominance at the beginning of the period suggested he would be the busier of the two goalkeepers once again.

Elano had a freekick thump straight into the Chelsea wall as City looked to reply, but Mark Hughes' side were immediately on the back foot when Essien's burst and clever exchange with Belletti allowed the substitute the chance to secure the win, but his left footed effort came off the post with Given beaten. Belletti exhaled in disbelief, but the Blues were unable to find the second goal that would make 41,000 people's afternoon slightly more enjoyable.

Drogba went off through injury, however, and the removal of the incredibly poor and ineffectual Robinho saw City respond through substitute Valeri Bojinov, who, like Essien, had only recently returned from injury. The Bulgarian's snapshot and volleyed effort saw him contribute more to the game in 20 seconds that what Robinho had offered all match, and Cech did excellently to catch the second effort after quickly reshuffling his feet.

Richard Dunne cleared off the from Malouda after the substitute had worked a yard of space in the area, after the Frenchman had wastefully shot into the side netting from a tight angle when a shot across the goalkeeper would have been by far the better option.

And despite some late pressure from the northerners in their ghastly red and black stripped kit, the Blues hung on for a precious victory, by a scoreline that suggests the game was far tighter than it truly was. Another win under Guus Hiddink sees the Blues cut United's lead to four points whilst maintaining both the Premier League's best attack and defence. Can they pip their rivals to the finish line? Three points against Tottenham next week would surely offer a clearer answer.


The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match award goes to...


5. Michael Essien

Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry ©, A Cole; Ballack, Essien, Lampard; Anelka, Drogba (Malouda), Deco (Belletti)

Manchester City:
Given; Richards, Dunne ©, Onuoha, Bridge; Zabaleta; Wright-Phillips, Elano (Etuhu), Ireland, Robinho (Bojinov); Caicedo (Evans).

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