LONDON: First blood to Jose Mourinho in the duel of two of the ‘new boys’ at the top of the Premier League after Chelsea snatched a dramatic and barely deserved late winner to beat Manchester City 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.
The hero of the hour was Fernando Torres while City’s scapegoat will be goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Mourinho and Pellegrini have a history of trading criticism through the media after the Portuguese succeeded the Chilean in 2010 after Real Madrid had finished second while setting a club record of 96 points.
Mourinho queried Pellegrini’s decision to join Malaga after leaving the Bernabéu and also suggested that “second is the first loser” when discussing his predecessor’s record at Madrid.
Pellegrini took care avoid making any contentious comments ahead of their first confrontation in England, doubtless concerned not so much about Mourinho as about the absence of defensive rock Vincent Kompany because of an ongoing thigh problem.
The open nature of the race for the league title explained the sense of uncertainty in West London even though the two squads are currently valued at £820m. Chelsea knew that a first home league defeat for Mourinho would be a significant setback to his ‘project’ while a third defeat would dent City’s credentials to regain the title.
One of the major tasks for Mourinho has been reigniting the attacking flame in Fernando Torres. His midweek goals in the Champions League against Schalke were a positive sign that the magic is working.
Mourinho kept faith with him against City and was duly rewarded after 20 minutes in which City, with Yaya Toure playing further forward than usual behind lone striker Sergio Aguero, had dominated play.
Pellegrini had risked giving barely fit-again Martin DeMichelis his club debut and suddenly Torres began to make life unbearable for him. First Torres raced away to cross for Andre Schurrle to score his first Chelsea goal from four metres. Then the Spaniard left DeMichelis trailing before hitting an angle drive against a post.
Four minutes into the second half and City were level, deservedly so. David Silva and Samir Nasri combined so that Aguero could thunder a shot past keeper Petr Cech on his near post.
For 10 minutes City looked the likelier winners but they grew more cautious in the closing minutes and, fatally, allowed Chelsea back into the game.
In the last minute of normal time Willian turned the ball into the City penalty box, Matija Nastasic headed in back past the advancing Joe Hart and Torres chased the ball down for the winning goal. Hart totally misjudged the situation, raising more doubts about his status as England’s No1.
Mourinho, who sat with the fans last week after being sent off for dissent, leaped into the stands of his own volition this time in sheer delight.
Elsewhere a late penalty from Roberto Soldado brought Tottenham a 1-0 win over promoted Hull. It was his third penalty and fourth goal of his first Premier season. Tottenham, not awarded one penalty at all last season, moved up to fourth place.
Fabio Borrini came off the subs’ bench to score a desperately-needed winner at 2-1 for struggling Sunderland in the north-east derby against Newcastle.
This was their first win of the season. Borrini said later that new manager Gus Poyet had “given us back our enjoyment of football” after the tempestuous reign of Mussolini-admiring Paolo Di Canio.