Chelsea have five matches to catch Manchester United at the top of the Premier League, and if they are all as easy as this they will have every chance of succeeding. This makes it eightgoals for and none conceded against Manchester City this season; who needs friends with opponents like these?
This was a stroll on a cool but sunny afternoon for Avram Grant's team against a City side who have won one match in their last seven and who, apart from a 15-minute spell before half-time, looked like they cannot wait for the season to end. Slow, sloppy and dull, just about the only imagination anyone with Sky Blue affiliation showed came from the announcer on the public address system, who billed the start of the second half as "the push for Europe". Push for mid-table mediocrity more like.
City gave the visitors a goal start when Richard Dunne put through his own goal after six minutes, and although Michael Johnson had a shot cleared off the line they never seriously suggested they would discomfort Chelsea. Instead the visitors made the points safe when Salomon Kalou dribbled round Joe Hart in the 53rd minute.
The romp pushes Chelsea, who rested Ricardo Carvalho, Claude Makelele and Didier Drogba, to two points behind United, who face Middlesbrough this afternoon, and ensured they will go into Tuesday's Champions' League quarter-final second leg against Fenerbahce with two prizes very much in mind.
"Now we have to hope for a good result at Middlesbrough," Grant said. "I never know whether it's better to play first or second but I know it's always best to play first and win."
The City manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, also struck a positive note. "I'm less depressed than I was a week ago," he said, referring to the lame 3-1 defeat at Birmingham City. "It was impor-tant for the players to know they can play good football against a team like Chelsea."
City lost 6-0 at Stamford Bride in October so the portents were not good, and they looked even less promising after six minutes. They had endured almost unceasing Chelsea possession without alarm when Michael Essien moved forward and then passed to Nicolas Anelka on the right. Even then, there seemed little danger from a low cross until Dunne slid in to clear but instead thumped the ball past his own goalkeeper from10 yards.
Chelsea would have taken advantage of more sloppiness in the home rearguard but for two immaculate tackles on Anelka from Nedum Onuoha. It appeared City were dozing their way to another reverse until they woke up after half an hour and could have scored twice. First Juliano Belletti stopped a goal-bound shot from Stephen Ireland, then Ashley Cole cleared off his line from Johnson.
Despite the number of incidents round the goalmouths, the first half had been played at a pedestrian pace, but the introduction of Joe Cole for the disappointing Shaun Wright-Phillips brought an injection of thought if not pace and a notable sense of urgency from Chelsea. Their second goal, after 53 minutes, came almost immediately after the substitution when Essien placed a clever through- pass that deflected off Dunne into the path of Kalou. The Ivory Coast striker coolly went round Hart and rolled the ball intothe net.
Suddenly the shackles were off Chelsea and they could have scored twice more within two minutes. First Hart flicked the ball away from Anelka's feet as he bore down on goal, then the City goalkeeper tipped Anelka's header on to the bar and recovered well to scoop away from his line when the ball hit his back.
After that Chelsea could ease up with Fenerbahce in mind, secure that the gauntlet has been thrown in the champions' direction. Who will win the title? The answer from the City manager was unexpected. "If I had a £10 bet," Eriksson said, "it would be on United."
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