LONDON // Rejuvenated Chelsea further opened up the title race in England by beating Manchester City 1-0 but saw Didier Drogba limp off to mar their afternoon. A goal off Michael Essien's right shin secured all three points for Guus Hiddink's side, enough to move them up to second in the table ahead of Liverpool on goal difference and only four points adrift of leaders United. Sir Alex Ferguson's side do have a game in hand, but after they were surprisingly beaten 4-1 at home by Liverpool on Saturday the title race is heading for a fascinating three-way finale just when critics had claimed it was already over. Whether Chelsea can take full advantage of United's blipremains to be seen, however. They laboured and toiled to victory against City in a match that failed to catch fire despite being billed as the battle of the billionaires - Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich more than matched by City's new owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed. In truth, City looked a long way off being title contenders and it was Essien - playing only his second match since returning from a knee injury that kept him out for six months - who won it for Hiddink's side. The Ghanaian's remarkable drive and energy has been sorely missed and he gave Chelsea fans a reminder of his qualities when he opened the scoring, half-volleying a shot on the turn off his shin from a low and flat Frank Lampard free-kick after just 18 minutes.
There were plenty of opportunities to extend the lead, including a Belletti shot that hit a post in the second half, a Malouda effort cleared off the line by Dunne and a penalty shout that really should have been given when Anelka was held back. But Chelsea couldn't quite find third gear and their afternoon was soured when Drogba, the key to their recent revival, limped off with what looked like a recurrence of an old ankle problem. With midfielder Deco also leaving the field early because of injury, manager Hiddink is beginning to realise why managing Chelsea has proved such a difficult job in recent times. The secret of his success so far - this match made it six wins in seven games since his arrival - has been his man-management of Drogba who had fallen out so badly with Scolari that he was made to train with the youth team. But if the prognosis on the striker's ankle is bad then the old problem of scoring the number of goals their possession deserves could come back to haunt the Blues. Certainly they ran out of ideas against City in the second half, although, in fairness, thereturn from injury of Ricardo Carvalho at the back meant Chelsea never looked in serious danger of losing their lead. The much-vaunted battle with Robinho failed to spark to life as the little No 10 was kept quiet and eventually substituted.