Manchester City 2–0 Chelsea
CHELSEA are again fighting to hold onto third spot following a hapless defeat at Eastlands.
City were dominant to start, and dominant in the end, with the only real respite for the visiting Blues being a Frank Lampard penalty saved by Joe Hart.
John Terry was dropped to the bench for the six-pointer – Chelsea sources cited 'managing the squad' as the reasoning. Managing it in an 'interim' fashion, presumably.
Picking David Luiz ahead of him at centre half risked providing post match ammunition for the sizeable anti-Rafa brigade. City started better, Chelsea preferring to sit back and play on the break.
On the quarter hour a corner found Matija Nastasic on the edge of the six yard box, the Serb's header drawing a remarkable diving save from Petr Cech.
Four minutes later City went close again: David Silva laying-off to Sergio Aguero. The forward ran into the box and, with Cech closing him down just enough to put him off his ultimate destination, put it out for a goal kick.
Chelsea were being punished for their own mistakes, giving the ball away far too easily – their undoing against City in a number of recent meetings.
Meanwhile, they gave glimpses of the positional indiscipline that threatens to spoil the party every time Luiz is featured in defence - the Brazilian going walkabout more than once to leave gaps a more alert City forward-line might seize upon.
Chelsea again lapsed into sitting-back mode; Jack Rodwell went close two headers, both saved by Cech; Pablo Zabaleta with a volley from outside the box, blocked by Gary Cahill.
One could barely believe it when the half time whistle came, and the scoreboard still showed 0-0.
City showed the same dominance in the opening stages of the second half.
But, with 50 minutes on the clock, the advantage was handed squarely to Chelsea as referee Andre Marriner pointing to the spot after Joe Hart had muscled Demba Ba to the ground.
The official somehow saw fit to keep his red card in his pocket, possibly because replays showed Ba to be heading marginally away from goal when the incident took place.
Lampard stepped up, seeking his 200th Chelsea goal. But, uncharacteristically, it was a soft effort: placed low to the left, within the reach of the diving Hart.
The incident seemed to apply the jump-leads to the game's rather flat battery.
City were the only real benefactors. Just after the hour David Silva cut a ball back from the Chelsea goal line to Yaya Toure – on the edge of the box.
He waved around three defenders, before threading a ball at a tight angle past Cech and into the net. A goal of real quality needed to beat a keeper on top form.
Chelsea, who probably should have mixed things up before the goal, made changes that after the goal made little sense.
In need of goals Benitez took off the two readiest sources of them, in Lampard and Eden Hazard, and brought on Oscar and Moses. Nothing happened.
Being run ragged in midfield, and with 10 minutes to play Benitez took off Mikel – their only real claming midfield influence - for Fernando Torres.
That one had an effect as within four minutes it was 2-0.
Ramires, dropped back into the holding role where he seldom looks comfortable, gave the ball away three times within about 90 seconds.
On the third, it ended up squared to sub Carlos Tevez who - given an acre of space by the retreating Ivanovic and Cahill, thumped the ball home from the edge of the box.
The difference between the sides a conservative two goals on the day, a more telling seven points over the season so far.
A win for Tottenham at West Ham tomorrow would put Blues fourth, with Arsenal chasing.