A hapless defensive mishap from Manchester City allowed Fernando Torres to score a 90th minute winner and take the spoils for Chelsea in the battle of the two pre-season title favorites at Stamford Bridge. The always engaging spectacle, which occasionally caught fire, had looked set for a draw after Sergio Aguero sensationally cancelled out Andre Schurrle’s 33rd minute strike four minutes into the second half. Instead a mix up between Matija Nastasic and Joe Hart led to the defender heading past his own keeper on the edge of the box and Torres racing clear to slide in and turn the ball into the unguarded net.
It was a desperate blow for City, who had done well to get back into the match in the second period. Once more, though, their defense proved their Achilles heel. City’s poor away record in the Premier League now stretches to three defeats and just one win. For Chelsea, it was the continuation of their surge up the table that sees them lying second, just two points behind Arsenal. Ultimately, a draw would have been a fair reflection of the balance of play, but Mourinho, who celebrated ecstatically with supporters upon Torres’ goal, is hardly likely to be concerned about that tonight.
City began the game well, with Pellegrini’s decision to field an extra man in midfield in Javi Garcia helping them gain control. It was largely sterile control, however, with all of City’s interchanges coming in front of Chelsea’s defense. And midway through the period Chelsea began to gain momentum and pose far more of a threat to the opposition backline.
There proved to be quite the contrasting five minutes for Torres. On the back of his two-goal performance against Schalke in midweek that led to, for the umpteenth time, him being hailed as back to his best, there was first a glimpse of the Torres that has been on show for much of his time at Stamford Bridge. From Ramires’ fine chipped ball into the box, Torres was found onside with just Joe Hart to beat but smashed a shot wildly over the bar. The reaction of Mourinho on the sidelines spoke volumes about his frustration.
Often in the past few years, that kind of disappointment has led to a slumping of the shoulders and hiding behind defenders. On this occasion, though, there was none of that. Instead Torres showed a burst of pace of his prime and outstripped Gael Clichy with ease down the left before drilling a low cross across the six-yard box that Schurrle escaped the attentions of debutant Martin Demichelis to convert.
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There was even better for Torres too minutes later. From an improbable angle down the left of the box, Torres struck a fierce effort toward the far top corner on his right foot and it was only the width of a crossbar that stopped it finding the net for one of the goals of the season.
City’s lack of attacking thrust was shown as the first half came to a close with Yaya Toure firing over the bar from outside the box. At the break, it looked like it would be a matter of time before Pellegrini would be forced to revert to a two-man front line with the introduction of Alvaro Negredo. Instead, his half-time alterations were more subtle, but highly effective.
The visitors came out playing with far more intensity and with more readiness to commit men forward, with Fernandinho in particular given more license to break between the lines. Pablo Zabaleta missed an early half chance when he shot over from the edge of the area following a pull back.
Despite City’s improved play, it would take something quite spectacular to get them back on level terms. Aguero’s movement was superb in peeling off Chelsea’s two center-backs from Nasri’s through ball down the inside left channel and the Argentinean outpaced Gary Cahill before unleashing a rocket of a first-time strike on his weaker left foot into the roof of the net, leaving Petr Cech to stick out his right hand in hope more than any expectation of keeping it out.
Until the dramatic finale there was just the occasional threat on either goal. Aguero curled just wide and David Silva shot tamely at Cech for City, while at the other end Torres and John Terry were unable to make the most of half-chances from Frank Lampard free-kicks. Entering the final stages it appeared that both managers would be contented with a point, although with Chelsea having more urgency to try and claim all three.
And that determination was reflected in Torres hopefully chasing a long ball forward and, after Hart sprinted unnecessarily to the edge of his box, outpacing Demichelis to secure what could yet to prove to be a massive win in the battle for the title.