LONDON // Jose Mourinho’s reaction as Fernando Torres scored the last-minute winner said it all. His jaw dropped, his eyes widened and, as he spread his arms in triumph, he found himself hugging members of the crowd behind the Chelsea bench.
The coach later explained that he was making a beeline for his son, who was seated there, but the emotion also indicated the importance of this victory, which took Chelsea to second in the Premier League table, two points behind leaders Arsenal and four clear of Manchester City.
He must have known, too, how unlikely a victory seemed at that stage, after a first-class game in which both teams had chances, then apparently settled into the acceptance of a draw.
For City, the failings were all too familiar. They have won four of their last 13 away games, and once again a decent display was undermined by defensive aberration. The first goal they conceded was bad enough, but the second was shambolic. Worse still, it was a replica of a goal they allowed at Aston Villa earlier in the season.
“We repeat the story,” said the City manager Manuel Pellegrini. “We are losing stupid points. The three defeats we have had away, we didn’t deserve any one of them. We had absolutely the control of the game, but finally in the last minute, we lost. We have responsibility for the goals we are conceding.”
Willian’s chipped ball over the top should have been mildly awkward rather than threatening, but goalkeeper Joe Hart mystifyingly came charging from his box as Matija Nastasic tracked Torres’s run. Nastasic, committed to leaping, was left with nowhere to go and nodded the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper, allowing Torres to run on and slide the ball into the empty net, the reward for a game in which he had played a central part.
Whether because of Mourinho’s celebration or the acrimony that remains from their time in Spain, the managers did not shake hands afterward.
“I didn’t want to,” Pellegrini said.
The addition of a third central midfielder had given City a platform they had perhaps lacked in previous away games this season, and for much of the first half they were the more creative and threatening side. And then, suddenly, the game became an episode of the ongoing Torres mystery. He took down a Ramires cross, and with the goal seemingly at his mercy, blazed over. Just as everybody began to wonder which phase of the “is he back, isn’t he back, will he ever be back?” narrative we were entering, Torres burnt past Gael Clichy and sent in a low cross for Andre Schurrle, who had evaded Martin De Michelis far too easily, to stab in from close range to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.
His blood up, Torres surged down the left, cut inside and, from an improbable angle, unleashed a curling, dipping shot that thudded off the crossbar.
“With an easy chance missed, it can be the moment when a striker loses confidence, but that was the moment when he decided ‘OK, I will be man of the match’,” Mourinho said.
Chelsea had wrested the initiative by the end of the first half, but City took it back early in the second and levelled with a stunning finish from Sergio Aguero, running on to David Silva’s through-ball and lashing his shot past Petr Cech.
What followed was a proper tense to-and-fro between two very good teams. Either could have won it, but Hart’s error was decisive.
@ For more on CHELSEA, visit thenational.ae/topics