Chelsea protect Premier League lead with draw against Man City
Chelsea retained the inside track in the Premier League title race after a 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Saturday.
The gulf between the sides remains at five points after a generally open and occasionally engaging affair at Stamford Bridge yielded two goals shortly before the break. Loic Remy poked Chelsea in front to complete a fine team move four minutes before the interval, but David Silva restored parity moments before halftime.
City enjoyed most of the play on the day despite the absences of Wilfried Bony and Kolo Toure, but the visitors lacked the incisiveness to take full advantage. Sergio Aguero spurned a glorious chance in the first half, while City struggled to make good use of its advantage in the wide areas after the interval.
Chelsea never hit top stride without the suspended Diego Costa and the injured Cesc Fabregas, but the tidy work to secure the opening goal through Remy and the unwavering organization under severe duress in the late stages proved enough to secure a point on the day.
The final result leaves Chelsea as favorites to reclaim the title, while City must now devise another way to close the gap with the Blues after missing their best chance to do in London.
City opened brightly with the stakes at the forefront of their minds. Defeat at Stamford Bridge would leave the champions eight points adrift in second place. Their endeavor at the outset reflected the peril of such a predicament and underscored the need to close the gap.
Most of City’s best work came through the wide areas with James Milner and Jesus Navas interchanging intelligently and stretching the field to create room for others. Fernandinho nearly benefited when Nemanja Matic poked his effort wide of the far post inside the first 10 minutes.
Chelsea retained its shape well and searched for opportunities to break forward on the counter. Eden Hazard flickered to life to win a corner in the early stages, but those moments occurred infrequently in the opening half-hour as City carried more of the play and posed more of a threat with their work on the break.
The miss proved costly as Chelsea opened the scoring with a tidy sequence four minutes before halftime. Willian and Ivanovic combined on the right to allow Ivanovic to play a deep, probing diagonal toward Hazard on the left. Hazard floated toward the end line and squared it calmly for Remy to turn home his first Premier League goal since December.
City responded brilliantly to falling behind to restore parity on the stroke of halftime. Once again, their work in the wide areas proved influential after Bacary Sagna played Jesus Navas in a position to whip a threatening ball toward the top of the goal area. Courtois flailed at the wicked delivery and made poor contact with his clearance. Aguero collected at the far post and drove his low effort toward the far post for Silva to stab home the equalizer.
The equalizer proved no less than City deserved on the balance of play and set up a finely poised second half. The two sides grasped the stakes as it opened by dropping tempo ever so slightly, but City eventually started to display the urgency required to unsettle the home side.
Navas continued to influence the match with his forays on the right. His willingness to run at defenders allowed him to reach the end line time and again to present a threat. Fernandinho forced Courtois to push his downward header over the bar before Milner headed another service over the bar.
As City looked for a second, Chelsea tried to find its rhythm. Hazard offered only a peripheral presence on the proceedings, while the usual cadence on the break never quite emerged as it did at points during the first half. There were some decent spells in possession as the second half progressed, but the home side ultimately adopted a pragmatic approach in the waning stages to see out the result.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini eventually altered his setup in the final quarter of an hour and threw returning hero Lampard on for the injured Fernando. Lampard entered to a mixture of applause and Chelsea chants as he sought to replicate his late heroics from the 1-1 draw between the sides at the Etihad back in September.
There were no fairytale endings on tap for City and Lampard on this afternoon, though. City pressed in the final 10 minutes without devising a way to break down their organized opposition. The final whistle left Chelsea with its five-point advantage intact and reinforced the work ahead for City to erase the deficit by May.