A massive win for Chelsea against table-topping Manchester City rounded off a testing week for Andre Villas-Boas, and moves Chelsea within seven points of the top. In a crunch battle, Chelsea knew they had to win in order to keep in the hunt. Seven points to catch up is still one hell of a task, but it is better than the mountain to climb that could have been thirteen if Chelsea did not prevail on a windy and wet evening in south-west London. Chelsea can safely say now that the bad rot is over. Comfortable wins against Newcastle, Valencia and tonight have earned AVB some rest time. But a crunch December awaits. The matches against Wigan, Fulham and Villa are more than winnable, and AVB will have to keep the winning streak going.
AVB stuck with the side that defeated Valencia, bar one change. In came Jose Bosingwa for the suspended David Luiz, whilst Torres and Lampard stuck to the bench, a role they might not have to get used to.
Manchester City started well, so well in fact they could have killed off the match within the first twenty minutes. 93 seconds was all it took for them to rip the heart out of Chelsea, the very first attack of the match. Aguero picked up the ball and on the right side, fed in Balotelli, a pass which surprised John Terry, and wrong-footed his partner-in-crime Branislav Ivanovic. The eccentric Italian coolly rounded the keeper and tapped home from an acute angle. It appeared AVB had ditched the “low block” tactics of the Valencia game, abandoning it in favour over his “high block”. Already, it was being tested.
The initial wound could have become a grave injury with 13 minutes on the clock. Bosingwa stupidly stuck a leg out which caught the majestic David Silva, and though Clattenburg had the best view in the house, he waved play on, a decision which went Chelsea’s way and one AVB will not complain about.
Manchester City continued to boss the match, having the majority of the possession, but Chelsea soon changed. With AVB recognising that his players were being pulled apart by intricate players like Aguero and Silva, AVB played with a much deeper line, one characteristic of an old Chelsea set-up used so successful under the managerial reign of his compatriot Jose Mourinho. JT and Ivanovic sat much deeper, as did the full-backs, and with Oriol Romeu anchoring, it gave Drogba, Mata and Sturridge the license to attack.
The tactical reshuffle worked wonders for Chelsea. Frustrating Manchester City in that they could not find the gaps, Chelsea attacked. Sturridge, the ex-City man, wiggled his way past Gael Clichy, who had a torrid night, and crossed to path of Raul Meireles, and the Portuguese was there to volley home, in typical Lampard fashion. 1-1, and the initial frustration Chelsea fans felt with conceding the early goal subsided.
Chelsea continued where they left off in the second half. Sturridge continued to be a real threat down the left, whilst the energetic Ramires got up time and time again to support the attack, in the safe knowledge that the Essien-esque Romeu was holding. It was the two that got their left-back sent off. With one eye on Sturridge out wide, and the other on the oncoming Ramires, Clichy was caught in two minds and inexplicably stuck out a leg, a mandatory second yellow, and he was given his marching orders.
Manchester City started to falter from then on. A more conservative approach was deemed necessary by Roberto Mancini, who did not want to succumb to his first league defeat of the season. Off went Aguero and Silva, and on came De Jong and Toure. Chelsea were sensing some vulnerability in the Manchester City defence, with their left-back gone, and pushed and pushed. Lampard was brought on to inject some energy into the team, off for his impersonator Raul Meireles, and he immediately got into the action.
Sturridge dominated down the right and when his shot was blocked by Lescott with both hands, it gave the vice-captain the perfect opportunity to prove the manager he deserves to be starting every match. He smashed the ball down the centre, with all that frustration let out, and celebrated like he had won a trophy.
The conservation game was now to be played by Chelsea. Even with a good ten minutes on the clock, Chelsea, using the strength of Drogba, tried to get the ball into the corner flags without Manchester City getting possession, something they did to great effect.
Chelsea saw out the match, and the reaction of the home support was indicative of the importance of the match. Stamford Bridge was rocking, and the players huddled together on the pitch and celebrated. A massive win – Andre Villas-Boas, take a bow son, you have passed your test – but many more will follow.