Tuesday 20 February 2018

Clinical Bellamy on hand to punish ragged Chelsea

DION FANNING at Stamford Bridge



A day of sub-plots ended with a massive twist in the main storyline. It wasn't Wayne Bridge's refusal to shake hands with John Terry, massively entertaining though that was. It wasn't the evidence produced at Stamford Bridge that the Premier League will always find a way to entertain and reinvent itself, even if the coaches are intent on something else.

It was Chelsea's first home defeat of the season and Manchester City's huge step towards Champions League football.

"It is important that we are there at the end of the season," Mancini said. "Football is strange, three days ago we played against Stoke and lost. This game can change our season."

Chelsea will find it strange too. They ended the afternoon with nine men and their Premier League title ambitions appeared just as ragged.

"We are disappointed because we lost an important game. We have to trust in our quality. We could have avoided some behaviour on the pitch to have two players sent off," Ancelotti said.

City hadn't scored at Stamford Bridge since 2000 and they didn't seem too bothered if they did yesterday. They turned up looking for a draw, yet they ended up scoring four times, taking a massive step towards fulfilling their ambitions for the season.

Mancini cannot have imagined victory being achieved in this fashion. With half an hour to go, they were knocking free-kicks backwards, refusing to push men forward. "I prefer to attack always," he said unconvincingly.

In Craig Bellamy, however, they had a man born to prey on weakness. Sometimes those talents are turned inwards, but yesterday Bellamy took the fight to Chelsea. He scored twice, then took on John Terry. "I know what JT's like, nothing surprises me about him. Everyone knows what he's like. But that's off the pitch. On it, he's an outstanding player and a great captain," he said.

Terry had a poor day again, but he wasn't alone. "Terry made no mistakes today," Ancelotti insisted. It had taken City until the end of the first half to discover that Henrique Hilario isn't much of a goalkeeper, but once they did, City and Bellamy exploited it to the full. Most people have enjoyed the John Terry-Wayne Bridge story, certainly more than the protagonists have, but at Stamford Bridge yesterday, it became an issue of utmost self-importance.

Chelsea decided they would not show the handshake on the big screen, fearing, perhaps, an intemperate reaction from the cuckolded and adulterers in the crowd, depending on how it went.

It went badly. Bridge kept his head down and his hand by his side, leading to an afternoon of boos directed at him, presumably for being an inattentive lover. Bridge had taken the unusual step of declaring his own position untenable last week, when he retired from international football. Traditionally, this is suggested by others and if there hadn't been all the fuss, many would have been pointing it out on footballing grounds rather than because of sexual jealousy.

If Bridge was going to survive the ordeal, he would have to do it without Stephen Ireland. A founder member of 'Team Bridge', Ireland was not among the squad yesterday.

Mancini wanted something else from his midfield, mainly a reluctance to go forward, something they showed they were capable of for most of the game. Yet they cut through Chelsea in the end. Carlos Tevez had returned from Argentina where he had been nursing his premature baby and battled bravely all afternoon, scoring twice and exposing the weaknesses in Terry's game.

For most of the first half, it was good there was a sideshow because the game was dreadful. But four minutes before half-time, Joe Cole picked out a Frank Lampard run which had exposed the City defence. Lampard's career has been built on these moments and he drilled the shot past Shay Given.

City had shown no inclination to attack and they weren't going to change before half-time. But they did manage to equalise. City were desperate when Bridge hoofed the ball clear as Chelsea searched for a second. Terry considered attacking the ball but left it for Mikel, another spur-of-the-moment decision he would come to regret.

Mikel was stretching and could only head the ball backwards. Tevez pounced, got away from Terry, then Carvalho. Terry came at him again, but Tevez shrugged him off before releasing a trickling shot. Somehow Hilario could only get a hand to it and City were level.

Chelsea needed a victory to go four points clear and, despite the defeat in the San Siro, they would have believed that City's form made it probable.

Instead, five minutes into the second half, they were chasing the game. Bellamy broke down the left with only Mikel to beat. That was no problem.

Once he was in the box, Bellamy had no problem beating Hilario either. He slipped the ball to the 'keeper's left from a narrow angle and a good goalkeeper would have stopped it.

Despite's City's caution, Chelsea's response was not impressive. City controlled the game and began to show some adventure. Gareth Barry lumbered forward and substitute Juliano Belletti brought him down. Referee Mike Dean gave a penalty and sent off Belletti. Tevez wrapped the game up with the penalty. Chelsea then gave them every assistance.

Ten minutes from the end, Ballack lunged at Tevez. It could have been a straight red but he was sent off for a second yellow. City were transformed and a swift move down the right ended up with Bellamy tapping in at the far post.

In the last minute, Barry brought down Anelka and Lampard scored from the penalty spot in front of a rapidly emptying Stamford Bridge.

Neither manager would comment on the snubbed handshake. Ancelotti said Terry would remain his captain and pointed out that Chelsea were still top of the league. Nobody was paying attention. Chelsea are at the point where they don't have to look for trouble, it finds them.

Sunday Independent

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