Towering Terry leads by example

Chelsea 1 Manchester City 0
Click to follow

Wouldn't you just know it - Claudio Ranieri rotates his reading matter. The tomes by the Italian's bedside include Inglesi, on the English and what makes them tick, and Leadership by Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.

An appropriate choice, given the manner of this victory here yesterday, one which ended with Chelsea atop the Premiership - by dint of neighbours Fulham's triumph at Old Trafford - for it owed much to the inspirational captaincy of John Terry, who encapsulates just about every positive Anglo-Saxon quality his manager will have gleaned from his study of the subject. The central defender was herculean in his endeavours, particularly in the second period, when Kevin Keegan's team strove valiantly for an equaliser.

In truth, Chelsea rarely replicated the panache they had exhibited against Lazio in midweek. Ranieri, who made a mere four changes to that starting side, explained that his team had "expended a lot of psychological energy" in the Champions' League game. The result was that City, as irritating to Chelsea as a wasp caught the wrong side of a windowpane in the way they launched countless counterattacks, merited a point. Robbie Fowler, still without a Premiership goal this season, was denied only by a remarkable first-half save from Carlo Cudicini.

Yet, after Chelsea had secured just one point from their last two Premiership games - a state of affairs presumably deemed "a crisis" in some quarters by the standards adopted since Roman Abram-ovich's introduction - the accumulation of championship points was undoubtedly more important than the aesthetics.

The fixtures between these clubs produced an aggregate 8-0 scoreline in favour of the London club last season, and that was before the Abramovich millions were invested. With Keegan, Professor of Attacking Philosophy at Manchester University, in town, there was a gleam in many an eye beforehand as they imagined a combined goal tally to rival the number of Australia's tries against Namibia. It wasn't to be, because of some sterling defensive performances, and not just from Terry and the excellent William Gallas in the home back-line.

City's rearguard also caused us to rethink our notion that in Keegan's office lies a dusty X-file labelled Defending: An Alien Concept. Adrian Mutu and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who fashioned the winner, looked a highly potent combination in the first half-hour, but overall their opportunities were severely restricted by Sylvain Distin and Co.

But what of the man behind the City rearguard? He was not overoccupied, but David Seaman's failure to prevent the goal will provide further ammunition for his detractors. It happened just after the half- hour, when Mutu rounded David Sommeil on the left and crossed low. The ball somehow eluded Seaman, leaving Hasselbaink the facile task of stabbing the ball home. The City goalkeeper is now a team captain on the BBC's They Think It's All Over. A bit too close to what many observers are saying about his career. His manager, though, bridled at such suggestions, preferring to blame Sommeil for poor defending. "David Seaman was terrific for us," Keegan said of his man.

Which takes us from Seaman, once of England, to Joe Cole, wannabe of England. At last, in the 15th game of the Blues' season, Ranieri's starting line-up included one J Cole. The former West Ham player had announced yesterday morning that he was "one of the top four midfielders in England", which is an audacious claim from a young man yet to show he is more than a "maybe" player at the highest level. He delivered one tantalising low cross beyond the visitors' rearguard which Hasselbaink just failed to meet, and after the interval was full of trickery, but too rarely to real effect.

Still, at least Ranieri used him. For all the mockery of the Stamford Bridge club as a depository for foreign mercenaries, the fact is that Ranieri deployed an English quartet yesterday - Cole, Terry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Bridge - and all are internationals. The chairman, Ken Bates, refers confidently to one - Terry - as "the next England captain". Another bold assertion, though on recent performances one would not argue with that prediction. Here, Terry met the challenge of Nicolas Anelka, the Premiership's joint top-scorer with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Michael Owen on eight goals before yesterday, with relish.

Ranieri's men initially lacked cohesion, with their passing too often wayward for much of the half. Although they improved as the game progressed, Chelsea were never truly convincing. Hasselbaink culminated a flowing move by setting up an opening for Mutu, but the Romanian struck the ball straight at Seaman. Then, just before the half-hour, Gronkjaer dinked in a cross for Lampard to head home, only for the assistant's offside flag to swiftly quell celebrations.

The cheers were more prolonged a few minutes later when Hasselbaink struck, this time legitimately, but City should have replied before half-time. With the interval beckoning, Mario Melchiot's error allowed Tarnant to cross, and although he found Fowler, the former Liverpool man's header was clawed on to his right post, and to safety, by Cudicini. Last week, the goalkeeper's aberration had yielded a winner to Thierry Henry at Highbury. This stop - a save of the highest order - restored him as the Premiership's best.

After the break, City looked increasingly likely to force an equaliser, but an Anelka effort from range was comfortable for Cudicini, who, later in the game, also thwarted Trevor Sinclair. Fowler made way for substitute Paolo Wanchope, who could have been City's saviour but spurned a chance from an acute angle. "We gave them a battle and a scrap, which we failed to do last season," said Keegan. "We limited them to three shots and certainly finished the stronger."

At the final whistle, the Chelsea faithful acclaimed the season's seventh Premiership victory. But not half as much as they displayed their approval when the result from Old Trafford was announced. But that's what neighbours are there for, to do you a favour. Isn't it? Yesterday, it was some turn Chris Coleman's men did.

Chelsea 1 Manchester City 0
Hasselbaink 34

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 41,040