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Sep 13, 2008

Chelsea spoil Robinho party

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea

Some Manchester City fans may have believed Abu Dhabi was an Arsenal midfielder and not an oil-rich middle east country when they fell out of bed some 13 days ago.

Indeed, the capture of the combative Arsenal midfielder on transfer deadline day would have been viewed as a major coup for Manchester's "other club" until news broke that the Arabs were coming with an unlimited clutch of surplus cash ready to off-load.

City's hugely ambitious new owners proved they were serious as they smashed the British transfer record with the stunning £32.5m signing of Robinho a few hours after their takeover was announced and from that moment forward, this was the occasion Manchester City fans had been waiting for.

The arrival of Chelsea, the usurped richest club in the Premier League, seemed fitting on the day when City's prized catch Robinho was making his debut and so began the most fascinating and unpredictable era in this club's oft turbulent history.

City supporters outside the ground sporting Arab headgear were clearly keen to embrace what is akin to a lottery victory, though many of the banners around the stadium were celebrating the return of City folk hero Shaun Wright-Phillips as much as the arrival of Robinho.

However, the player Chelsea so badly wanted to be sporting their shirt here at Eastlands today was not content to take a back seat and settle into life as a Premier League star with the team he hardly knew much about when he agreed to join them.

Just 13 minutes of his debut had passed when a free kick was presented to him on the edge of the box and there was never any doubt about who would be given responsibility of taking it. A collective gulp of breath followed as the City faithful dared to dream their new No.10 would produce the magic they had come to see, but they should never have doubted.

Brilliance and luck often go hand in hand and thus was the case as Robinho floated a free-kick that deflected off the top of the Chelsea wall to leave Petr Cech helpless as the net bulged. Cue lavish celebrations, with Robinho offering his trademark thumb-sucking toast, while then pointing to his City badge as if he had achieved his ambition of a lifetime by scoring for his dream team.

The cynics among us in the packed out press box could not help but feel this show of love for Manchester City was all false, yet there has never been any doubting the ability of this diminutive little player who looked even smaller than usual in a shirt that looked a little to big for him.

A full scale argument between Cech and Chelsea skipper John Terry was the sideshow to Robinho's celebrations and just for a moment, it felt as if the Premier League favourites were unlucky to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. This stadium has been known to lack a little atmosphere at times, but this day was very different.

Just when it seemed as if the wave of emotion may be about to drown Chelsea, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men struck back with Ricardo Carvalho's leveller proving that the Arab millions may need to buy a few defenders for City in January. Had Florent Malouda directed his header just below the bar rather than hitting it after 28 minutes, the City bubble would have well and truly been burst long before the break.

The second half merely confirmed what the first suggested as Frank Lampard and Deco took control of the midfield battle and the Chelsea lead was established when the first of that potent midfield duo finished off a stunningly swift breakaway eight minutes after the restart.

With Robinho fading and Chelsea looking devastating as an attacking unit, the City fans around us started venting their frustrations by screaming angry advice in the direction of manager Hughes. When Stephen Ireland wasted a decent chance after 63 minutes, their annoyance threatened to overflow and their false optimism was finally exposed.

Football fans have shown time and again that they are gullible enough to believe in any fanciful fairy tale if it offers hope that their side will join the elite, but the difference between the Arab takeover of city and the Russian takeover of Chelsea back in 2003 could not be more acute.

Roman Abramovich arrived at a time when Chelsea were already a Champions League side, while the Abu Dhabi cash cow has rolled in at a moment when City are some way from such lofty heights. Vast investment will be made in a bid to take this club to the next level, but it will need the sort of patience you fear may not be afforded to boss Hughes.

"Chelsea were excellent and we just didn't have enough to get into them in the second half," said Hughes. "I give Robinho credit because he only came back early on Friday morning from his international games and he set the place alight with his free kick, but he will need time to settle like anyone else. We always knew this wouldn't happen overnight and Chelsea were better than us today."

Ex-City star Anelka confirmed his side would not get anything from their big day when he fired home the decisive third goal and the only blot on Chelsea's flawless display came when referee Mark Halsey sent off skipper John Terry for a tug on Jo.

"I was surprised by the red card because I did not feel John was the last man," stated Blues boss Scolari. "We will look at it again, but the overall emotion is one of happiness from a great performance. The football we played was excellent and the goals were well made. It was a great display and we can take so much from this."

Terry knew what he was doing as he hauled back his opponent, but Carvalho and Juliano Belletti were on hand to cover and a yellow card should have been the result. As it stands, the Blues talisman will be suspended for next weekend's clash with Manchester United, though an appeal is bound to follow.

Terry's premature departure may have frustrated Scolari, but the man who must be wondering what might have been may well have been wearing the Manchester City No.10 shirt in this game. He may be rich beyond his wildest dreams, but you suspect Robinho wishes he was a Chelsea player right now.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Deco
The Portuguese star has slotted into the Chelsea side with ease and his class shone through once again. He had too much guile for the City midfield.

DIRECTORS BOX MIX: The sight of former Chelsea manager Avram Grant sitting a few feet away from Blues chief executive Peter Kenyon was novel, as was the presence of former City owner Thaksin Shinawatra. The now ex-City owner is currently "on the run" from the Thai authorities after skipping bail.

ROBINHO WATCH: He only got off a plane from South America in the early hours of Friday morning and he put in plenty of work as well as scoring his memorable goal. This was a decent start for the Brazilian, but he faded badly in the second half.

SHIRT MYSTERY: Robinho finally got his hands on the Chelsea shirt he wanted to wear when he swapped his new jersey with Deco at the half-time interval. It was a little early to start the familiar post-match pleasantries.

CITY VERDICT: They have a long way to go before they even think of matching a side of Chelsea's stature. On this evidence, City need to rebuild their midfield as Stephen Ireland and his colleagues were not up to the job against true quality performers. Their full-back positions also looked like weak spots.

CHELSEA VERDICT: Champions elect? On a day when Manchester United fluffed their lines at Anfield, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men certainly looked the part. They deserve to be recognised as Premier League favourites.

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