Luiz heroics allow Chelsea to believe in the title again

Chelsea 2 Manchester City 0: Hopes grow at Stamford Bridge while loss leaves City looking over their shoulders

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The Independent Online

It has been a while since we have seen Roman Abramovich throwing himself about anxiously in his seat at Stamford Bridge or exchanging exuberant high-fives with his son in the manner of slightly embarrassing fathers the world over, but yesterday he looked as animated as he has done in a while.

The Chelsea owner seems to sense what everyone else at the club is feeling: that this team are back in with a shout of the Premier League title race. It is a long shot and they will have to win at Old Trafford as well as hoping that Manchester United drop points elsewhere but suddenly the most credible challengers in this title race are the team that moved up to third place yesterday.

What has changed? They are free of injuries at last, they have a resilience that was lacking in those dark moments when the season unravelled and they have a new hero in David Luiz. He looks like he should be on a protest march against the introduction of tuition fees but plays like he has been in the Premier League all his career.

Luiz has had an extraordinary effect on this team. Not just because of yesterday's goal or his first one against United this month, or even the commitment with which he defends. But because he has the kind of personality that has enabled him to thrive in the English game. He has inspired the crowd and raised the bar again at Chelsea. He is a natural fit for this league and this style of play.

That Chelsea are back among the Champions League places thanks, in large part, to the contribution of Luiz means that the £21m fee paid for him already looks like a gamble that has paid off. At this rate he will be remembered as one of the best January transfer-window signings of all time, although the view is rather more mixed thus far on Fernando Torres.

While it would be foolish to judge Torres too early, the goalless run for the £50m man now stretches to seven games and it was only when he was substituted with 20 minutes remaining that Chelsea finally broke through. Carlo Ancelotti dropped Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka to the bench to accommodate Torres alongside Salomon Kalou and it would be difficult to argue that the combination looked like the future for Chelsea.

Torres's struggles to break his duck would be more of an embarrassment were it not that others are picking up the slack. This was a game that lacked the tension and excitement you might expect from a game showcasing two XIs with a combined transfer-fee value of almost £400m until the closing stages. By the time Ramires added a spectacular second goal the match had finally opened up.

This was not City's finest hour. They lost Carlos Tevez in the last 24 hours before the game with a groin problem and when the cameras picked him up yawning extravagantly from his seat in the stand midway through the first half, it was hard not to sympathise.

City managed just one shot on target all game. There is no shame in playing a cautious 4-1-4-1 formation at Stamford Bridge where few teams expect to do much more than defend but every away side requires a spark of imagination on the counter-attack. Yesterday, there was none from City. Edin Dzeko found himself in John Terry's shadow all afternoon.

For a team who have won just one of their last seven Premier League games, this is starting to look like a decline that could ruin the hard work laid down in the early part of the season with those wins at home to Liverpool and Chelsea.

Once Petr Cech had saved Yaya Touré's shot on goal after six minutes that was it in terms of chances for City. There was some brilliant defending at times from the likes of Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany who made important interventions in the first half. But they carried no real attacking threat which allowed Chelsea to grow in confidence throughout the game.

It leaves Roberto Mancini's team in fourth place trailing Chelsea by a point having played one more game. Looking over their shoulder, Tottenham are a further four points away in fifth place. But it is coming to that stage of the season when, with eight league games to play, they must be concerned about the prospect of missing out on Champions League football.

What let them down yesterday was the sloppiness of their defending when, with 11 minutes left, Luiz won a free-kick on the left wing from Micah Richards' challenge. Drogba crossed the ball in right-footed and Aleksandar Kolarov failed to offer an adequate challenge when Luiz moved in front of him to flick his header beyond Joe Hart.

It was much the same story in injury-time when first Joleon Lescott and then Kolarov offered half-hearted challenges and found themselves jinked past by Ramires who summoned the energy from somewhere for such an impressive run and finish so late in the game. With City finally stretched, there was always the danger that it might happen.

It was a pity that only in those late stages did Mancini gamble on Adam Johnson and even the volatile Mario Balotelli, so desperate was his situation. Those kind of players need more than nine minutes to establish themselves in the match, especially against a Chelsea defence that now looks very assured.

As ever, it was Terry at the heart of it who was uncompromising and reliable. He went down under a challenge early in the second half and stayed on the ground long enough for everyone to start wondering who Fabio Capello would have as next in line as England captain.

But Terry pulled himself to his feet to the usual adulation of Stamford Bridge, who have only ever considered there to be one England captain. Whatever you make of the misjudgements Terry has made over his career off the field – and there have been many – he has an ability to straighten it all out with his performances on the pitch. Like the club he plays for, he just seems to come bouncing back.

Subs: Chelsea Anelka 6 (Malouda, 70), Drogba 6 (Torres, 70), Zhirkov (Kalou, 77). Manchester City Balotelli (Y Touré, 80), A Johnson (Milner, 81).

Booked: Chelsea Ramires, Luiz Manchester City Milner, De Jong, Barry, Kolarov

Man of match Luiz Match rating 5

Possession Chelsea 48% Man City 52%

Attempts on target Chelsea 11 Man City 3

Referee C Foy (Merseyside) Att 41,741



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