City win cranks up the heat on Benitez

Man City 2 Chelsea 0
Goals from Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez retained Manchester City’s interest in the Premier League title race, for another week at least, but in the contest of under-pressure, high-profile managers, Rafa Benitez lost significant ground.

The futures of City’s Roberto Mancini and Chelsea’s interim manager are currently the topic of constant speculation but, while the former can make an impassioned case that his team is not far from hitting the heights of last season, Benitez is currently presiding over a growing disaster at Stamford Bridge.

Frank Lampard saw a penalty saved by Joe Hart with the game still scoreless and Chelsea will rightly claim that the City goalkeeper was fortunate to even be on the pitch, having escaped a yellow, let alone red, card from referee Andre Marriner as he brought down Demba Ba.

But so poor were Chelsea, in contrast to the team with which they were hoping to compete for second place, that even deeper, more serious questions must surely be directed at the Spaniard who is in danger of finishing the season out of the top four of the Premier League.

Benitez has collected 25 points from his 15 league games, one more this season than his popular predecessor Roberto di Matteo but in three games more than the Italian had in charge.

And, while Chelsea are still alive in the FA Cup and Europa League, their form in the bread and butter of the Premier League has been alarming to the degree that missing out on next season’s Champions League place is not inconceivable.

However, it was the toothless manner of his team’s defeat that was of greatest concern, with his side failing to threaten for practically the entire game.

Benitez’s predicament may well have been eased had Lampard converted the 51st minute penalty, correctly awarded after Hart had hauled down Ba as the Chelsea forward pounced on uncertain defending from Kolo Toure at Branislav Ivanovic’s through ball.

Lampard, searching for his 200th goal for Chelsea, struck his penalty well, firm and low to the foot of the left-hand post where Hart made amends for his error with a stunning diving save.

“It should have been at least a yellow card,” said Benitez. “You can argue that he was going in a direction away from goal but it’s still a clear chance and at least a yellow card.”

Mancini could afford a joke about Hart’s lucky escape — “With him being our player, yes it was possible he could have been sent off,” said the Italian sarcastically — but the City manager knew he owed the goalkeeper much for his outstanding penalty stop.

“I tell him when he is at fault,” said Mancini. “And we can’t concede a penalty like this, from a kick 45 metres out. Kolo and Joe both made a mistake. But, after that, he was fantastic.”

The penalty aside, a second, arguably more significant, turning point came after 62 minutes when Ramires appeared on the end of a Chelsea counter-attack and only had Kolo Toure to beat to have Hart and the goal at his mercy. The Brazilian failed to even shoot, falling over under the slightest of contact from the City defender, and within seconds his side trailed.

Yaya Toure appeared on the end of a slick series of passes, and after a short assist from David Silva, curled an unstoppable finish past Petr Cech.

Given that Chelsea mustered a grand total of two on-target shots in the 90 minutes, including the saved penalty, the solitary goal was always likely to be enough but, for good measure, City would add a second with five minutes remaining and the visitors pressing for an equaliser. Sergio Aguero and Silva exchanged passes tidily on the edge of the Chelsea area before picking out the unmarked Tevez who made the most of uncertain closing down by Ivanovic and powered in an unstoppable shot from 18 yards.

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