Chelsea remained five points clear at the top of the Premier League table but surrendered their 100% home league record in a 1-1 draw with title rivals Manchester City.
In the absence of talismanic striker Diego Costa and playmaker Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea struggled to punish City when they had the chance, yet they will be satisfied with a point. Loic Remy led the line for Chelsea with Costa suspended and Ramires replaced Fabregas, who was injured.
However, the majority of the pre-match talk was centred around Frank Lampard and his return to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s record goalscorer returned to the club for whom he won three Premier League titles, and started on the bench for City as he bids to help the champions retain their trophy.
Manchester City started the game at a fast pace and were pressing and probing a Chelsea defence that included young centre back Kurt Zouma. Sergio Agüero and David Silva caused problems, as would be expected, but it was the intensity of Jesus Navas’ display and the lackadaisical nature of Chelsea’s passing that let them down at times in the first half.
And yet, in the 41st minute, it was the league leaders that went in front. A Chelsea attack ended up working its way back to Branislav Ivanovic, and the Serbian set in motion a piece of play that showcased all of the quality that the Blues possess. Ivanovic looked up and played a diagonal pass to pick out the run of Eden Hazard, and the Belgian volleyed a delightfully weighted pass across the six yard box to pick out Remy, giving the Frenchman a simple tap in.
Stamford Bridge erupted with relief as well as delight and there was a sudden air of expectancy. An expectancy that Jose Mourinho’s men could sweep City aside and assert themselves as champions elect. There is no doubt that an eight point gap at this stage in the season would be hard to overturn, although it would by no means be a foregone conclusion.
That expectancy and hope was wiped out within four minutes though, as City showed that Chelsea are not the only team in the country with the quality to win the league. A controversial decision to give a throw in to City left Chelsea bemused – the ball hadn’t gone out of play – but Manuel Pellegrini’s side capitalised on the decision.
A cross from the right was flapped at by Thibaut Courtois – a rare mistake from the highly rated Belgian keeper – and the ball dropped for Agüero. His effort was going wide but it was turned in by Silva for the equaliser and the clubs went into the break level.
In the second half, Fernandinho came closest to winning the game for City as his headed effort bounced into the turf and nearly looped over the head of Courtois eleven minutes into the second half, but the Chelsea stopper managed to tip it over the bar.
City dominated and attempted to wear Chelsea down, with the likes of Hazard having an uncharacteristically quiet second half. Lampard was afforded a 15 minute cameo by manager Pellegrini in a move that provoked unity between the fans of these two title rivals. Both sets of supporters stood to applaud his introduction.
Although there were some jeers, the majority of the home fans acknowledged the former England international’s contribution to the club’s recent history. There was to be no fairytale moment for Lampard though, and he couldn’t find a late goal in the same fashion as he had in the reverse fixture at the Etihad.
Instead, for the second time this season, these sides finished level at 1-1. It means Chelsea are still in the driving seat, but Mourinho will not allow his players to relax. If they slip up City will surely be there to punish them. The draw, although on balance a disappointing result, keeps City in the hunt to do just that.