LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Frank Lampard of Chelsea celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot to give his team a 2-1 lead during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on December 12, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Chelsea have made it three important wins out of three important matches by breaking up Manchester City's unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge. Going into the game, expectations weren't particularly high - City had made a point of dismantling tougher opposition, having destroyed both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur away from home - but there was some hope that the Blues would prove worthy opponents against a team whom many have already crowned champions.
There were some big questions in terms of selection for Andre Villas-Boas to answer. With David Luiz suspended due to yellow card accumulation, the defence was reshuffled, so he didn't have to worry about the back line, but the 3-0 home win against Valencia saw both Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres on the bench. Would either of them be restored to the lineup? Nope. Villas-Boas kept things as they were, starting with both Didier Drogba and Raul Meireles.
Two minutes into the match and it looked as though the midfield and striking selections weren't going to make a single bit of difference, because Manchester City were blowing us off the park. They'd already scored through Mario Balotelli, who took advantage of a terrible mistake by Branislav Ivanovic in the middle of the pitch to round Petr Cech and slot into the empty net. It wasn't a fluke goal (although had Ivanovic not gotten turned around, Sergio Aguero's pass would have been easily cut out): City were completely bossing the game.
Chelsea didn't even look like they'd played together before. The Blues were having trouble stringing more than a few passes together at a time and they could barely get the ball out of their own half. City were swimming in confidence as the rain poured down at Stamford Bridge, and Chelsea were reeling. Pandemonium was probably the word of the day when wants to describe our defensive organisation, and with David Silva, Balotelli and Aguero dancing around the back four it looked like we were in for a hammering.
During that spell, Jose Bosingwa was fairly lucky not to concede a penalty when he stuck out a leg in front of David Silva, although Mark Clattenburg was perhaps unimpressed by the fact that Silva was already halfway through his fall before any actual contact was made. At that point, if you surveyed the fans at the Bridge or on Twitter, asking them to predict the final score, you'd have been hard pressed to find any but the most optimistic fans expecting three points. It was pretty miserable.
But while we were all wallowing in our collective self pity, Chelsea had started to improve. Ramires and Daniel Sturridge were the keys, their blistering runs able to keep the City defence honest. The visitors were slowly forced to concede ground rather than send wave after wave of attack in our direction, and it finally looked like we had a chance to not pull a Manchester United and get embarrassed at home.
It still didn't look as though a win was on the cards, because we hadn't really managed to trouble Joe Hart in the City goal (a pair of odd Drogba shots aside), but all that changed quickly when Sturridge burst into the area, tied Gael Clichy in knots, and sent in a brilliant cross for Meireles to volley into the back of the net. City scored with their first real chance, and now so had Chelsea, and the match was level.
The momentum was all going Chelsea's way now, and although Aguero managed to give us a scare with a shot at the end of the first half, the way City's players were being forced into bad fouls made it clear they were worried by the likes of Ramires and Juan Mata. Before the break, Vincent Kompany got a booking, and it's a bit of a mystery that Yaya Toure avoided yellow for kicking Mata and then shoving him in the face.
Clichy did manage to pick up a booking just after the restart when Sturridge once again skinned him down the right, and from the free kick the 22-year-old found himself unmarked, shooting just over from a good position. The second half was reasonably quiet, which was probably what both teams, wary of losing, were looking for, but all that changed when Ramires decided to get involved again.
The Brazilian midfielder may have his issues, but nobody doubts the value his explosive runs bring. City were well aware of his threat, having been burned by him last season, but they apparently didn't learn their lesson and were forced into several silly fouls by his sheer pace and quick feet. And then, just as Ramires threatened to burst into the box following a sublime reverse pass by Drogba, Clichy stuck out a foot and brought him down.
It was a clear yellow card, and since he was on a booking already, the former Arsenal man was dismissed. Chelsea were dominant at full strength - how would they do with the man advantage?
Villas-Boas was cautious, fully aware that City's embarrassment of riches up front meant they were a threat despite sacrificing Kun Aguero for Kolo Toure. He could easily have committed more forwards to the fray, but chose not to, keeping three players deep to monitor Balotelli and Silva. It was a frustrating decision at the time, but it made a good amount of sense, because Chelsea were still playing fairly well and Roberto Mancini was slowly drawing his attacking players off for defenders.
The breakthrough was going to come eventually*, and Daniel Sturridge was the creator - with a little help from City centre half Joleon Lescott. Sturridge had opened himself up for a shot at Hart's right-hand post, but Lescott, in a fit of absolute lunacy, sent himself flying at the ball with his arms raised high, and smacked it behind with his elbow.
*Despite us opting to try the crossing route, which worked exactly as well as you'd expect it to.
It was as stonewall a penalty as you're likely to see, and with Frank Lampard having been introduced for Meireles slightly before the spot kick was awarded, the Blues had their specialist on the pitch. Lampard had missed a penalty in the last league game, and Juan Mata offered to take it if he wasn't feeling up to the challenge, but the vice-captain brushed off any doubt, stepped forward, and buried a shot right down the middle, with Hart diving to his left.
It was 2-1 and Chelsea just needed to see the game out. Immediately, Edin Dzeko was added to City's potent front line, but he was barely able to link up with Balotelli thanks to the absence of the visitors' more creative stars. The Blues easily held off their guests feeble attempts to find an equaliser, sent Drogba to trap the ball near the corner flag, and, after four minutes of stoppage time, won the game.
And if you're seeing parallels to this match and the United home game last year, well, you're not alone.
Chelsea's man of the match?
Daniel Sturridge (248 votes)
Raul Meireles (39 votes)
Ramires (113 votes)
Gael Clichy (52 votes)
Frank Lampard (27 votes)
Other (23 votes)
502 total votes