Premier League – Essien strike puts Chelsea second
The Ghanaian international, making just his third league appearance of an injury-plagued campaign, steered a half-volley past Shay Given on 18 minutes to cap a dynamic return to the Chelsea midfield.
Defeat for City continues their miserable away form in the Premier League. Mark Hughes’s team have now failed to win on the road since beating Sunderland 3-0 at the Stadium of Light last August and rarely troubled an exuberant Chelsea.
Chelsea had the ball in the net inside two minutes, but Frank Lampard was rightly adjudged offside after he swept home Essien’s mis-hit shot from six yards.
With City slow to settle, the home side dominated territory and possession – Essien, Lampard and Michael Ballack looming large in a one-sided midfield battle.
Essien released Didier Drogba with a slide rule pass on nine minutes, but once again the offside flag intervened.
On 13 minutes Drogba’s pass invited Nicolas Anelka to run on goal, but Nedum Onuoha made a well-timed tackle to end the danger. Lampard and Ricardo Carvalho went close soon after, as a Chelsea goal began to look inevitable.
When the goal duly arrived it owed everything to Lampard’s vision. The England midfield saw Essien pull away from his man inside the box and delivered an inch-perfect free-kick which invited the Ghanaian to shoot.
Essien’s connection was not the sweetest, but he found the top corner with his half-volleyed effort and Chelsea deservedly went ahead.
The home side immediately looked to press home their advantage. Referee Mike Riley turned down penalty claims when Anelka went down under a challenge from Onuoha, and soon after Ballack blazed over after a delightful backheel from Drogba played him in.
City were limited to chances on the break, the best of which fell to Robinho five minutes before the interval. The Brazilian cracked a shot-come-cross from inside the box, but a blue shirt was first to the ball and Chelsea cleared.
The second half saw a similar pattern unfold. Chelsea controlled the match and created countless opportunities, while City sat back and struggled to create anything of note on the counter.
On 47 minutes Drogba was sent clean through, but Onuoha and Richard Dunne combined to deny the forward with a two-pronged saving tackle.
The striker had an even better chance soon after, but Given was on hand to palm away his shot from 12 yards.
Substitute Juliano Belletti hit the post with a 20-yard effort on 71 minutes, as the second goal Chelsea’s dominance deserved continued to elude them.
At 1-0 down City were never out of it, but aside from Valeri Bojinov’s crisp volley late on, Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal had a relaxing time of it in the closing stages.
Ballack and Florent Malouda had chances to double Chelsea’s lead as the clock ticked down, but it wasn’t to be and the home fans appeared fully satisfied when the final whistle signalled another three points for Hiddink’s rejuvenated team.