Blues find their 'Plan B'
Manchester City 0
Published 21/03/2011 | 05:00
All good teams boast a back-up strategy and Plan B for Brazilians certainly worked brilliantly for Chelsea at the Bridge yesterday.
Late goals from David Luiz and Ramires kept Chelsea's title flame flickering after their initial tactical set-up failed to bring the best out of Fernando Torres, the birthday boy denied the gift of a goal he craved.
In leapfrogging City into third, the champions now lie within four points of Arsenal and nine of Manchester United. Chelsea, who have a game in hand over the leaders, must still travel to Old Trafford.
If Alex Ferguson's famously resilient side rightly remain favourites, nervy Arsenal certainly look vulnerable to a late Chelsea charge, particularly with Luiz and Ramires playing as vibrantly as this.
Luiz has quickly become a darling of the Bridge. The centre-half's willingness to take risks in possession may haunt the sleep of manager Carlo Ancelotti, but the fans love it. The man who seems to use the same hairdresser as Carlos Valderrama certainly makes things happen.
Life's not boring with Luiz about. At one point in the second half, Luiz tangled for possession with Edin Dzeko and his shorts came down.
It was not the full Sammy Nelson, not even a half-Nelson, but it provided more entertainment. He also scored a vital goal, heading home after City had resisted Chelsea for 78 minutes. His fellow Brazilian, and former Benfica team-mate, added the second.
Ramires' goal was a gem, as he weaved through City's defence, and a slight surprise as the No 7 shirt had been deemed jinxed here in recent years; previous incumbents included Adrian Mutu, Winston Bogarde, Bernard Lamborde and Andrei Shevchenko.
When he arrived for £18m, Ramires resembled a little boy lost in the big, bad playground of English football, a paper aeroplane in the wind-tunnel of the physical, pacy Premier League. Ramires settled in, put in some big tackles, and looks increasingly integral to Chelsea's future.
As should Ancelotti be. The day began with Chelsea's chief executive Ron Gourlay making some unnecessary comments on radio about the Italian's future, saying that judgment would be made this summer. Ancelotti, one of the game's good guys and an excellent manager, deserves an extension to a contract that expires in 2012, not the lukewarm words of his employer. At least, Roman Abramovich was here and appeared to be enjoying it.
While Chelsea should rightly celebrate victory, the Torres conundrum persists. Abramovich's £50m signing had the starting XI seemingly shaped to his design; Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba both began sitting behind Ancelotti, although they arrived midway through the second half and helped turn the game.
On being removed, Torres cut a disconsolate figure sitting, hunched, on the bench but he should look across town for inspiration. At Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp took eight games to score, and Thierry Henry another game, and they became prolific idols. Torres will come good.
City will hope Dzeko also begins delivering, although he was mostly an isolated figure as Chelsea dominated. City were missing Carlos Tevez, suffering with a slight groin problem, so blunting their cutting edge, seeing only a Yaya Toure shot in the first half but they lacked none of their usual defensive resilience.
Vincent Kompany was terrific again. Defenders are rarely celebrated in the end-of-season individual awards but the Belgian deserves a mention alongside the likes of Nemanja Vidic. Kompany had to be on his guard as Micah Richards ventured forth frequently, and Ashley Cole was quick to target the area vacated by the marauding City right-back.
Chelsea had their chances and Torres never stopped showing for the ball. But he needs to regain that burning acceleration that saw off opponents. In a listless first period, Torres was caught by Nigel de Jong in a sprint over 15 yards.
Alongside Torres in their 4-4-2 was Salomon Kalou, getting into good positions but failing to hit the target. He could have earned a penalty, his cross hitting Joleon Lescott's left arm, but Chris Foy waved play on. When Kompany then slipped, Kalou swivelled and shot straight at Joe Hart.
The game continued to meander through the second half, the song remaining the same, of Chelsea control and City blockade. Torres was working hard but the eye kept being drawn back to Luiz. He linked with Frank Lampard, creating a chance for Branislav Ivanovic, who headed straight at Kompany.
City's industry was immense, Aleksandar Kolarov and De Jong both throwing themselves in the way of Michael Essien's attempted pass.
City's attacks were limited, although Dzeko flicked a header just wide.
Luiz was more and more visible, joining in the widespread sympathetic applause as Torres was substituted in the 70th minute. The Brazilian moved across to shake hands with the departing Spaniard.
Still Chelsea pressed. Still Kompany stood firm, heading away a Lampard free-kick.
Luiz was making more frequent visits to Hart's area, even geeing up the Matthew Harding end to crank up the volume.
He soon sent the noise off the dial. When Drogba swerved in a free-kick from the left, Luiz darted in between Kompany and Kolarov. The header still needed to be directed superbly, angled down past Hart.
As Chelsea celebrated, Mancini was forced to change course. He had planned to park the bus with two more defenders, Dedryck Boyata and Jerome Boateng, but had to release the handbrake.
Mario Balotelli and Adam Johnson came on but the most dangerous wave flooding across the pitch was pure royal blue.
Cole had an effort blocked before Ramires struck an elegant second in stoppage-time. Gliding past Lescott and Kolarov, Ramires swept the ball past Hart. Brazil 2, City 0. (© Daily Telegraph, London)