Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has bemoaned the fact that he has been able to call upon Fernando Torres only sporadically throughout the season, and argues that Liverpool would be in an even better position if the talismanic Spaniard had kept himself fit.

Guus Hiddink could put forward the same argument with the same amount of conviction in the case of Michael Essien. This game showed the Chelsea fans what they had been missing since the Ghanaian was injured on international duty in September: drive, determination, commitment and seemingly limitless stores of energy - they were all on show in abundance on a sunny afternoon at Stamford Bridge.

The Bison scored the only goal of the game and drove his team mates towards a result that leaves the West Londoners four points behind Manchester United, who have a game in hand. At this stage United still have the momentum, but both Chelsea and Liverpool are doing all they can to ensure that there is still some life left in this season’s title race.

If Essien was magnificent, his team mates flittered between mediocre and impressive. Chelsea should have added to the lead Essien established in the 18th minute, but failed to do so due to a combination of Shay Given and a lack of urgency at times.

Frank Lampard thought he had scored early on, but the linesman ruled out his strike for offside. Ricardo Carvalho nodded wide shortly afterwards, before the home side took the lead.

Lampard quickly took a free kick and the ball sat up for Essien, who hit a first time volley over a stranded Shay Given and into the net.

City offered little going forward, and were limited to sporadic efforts on goal. Wayne Bridge - forever remembered at Chelsea for his winner against Arsenal at Highbury in the Champions League quarter finals in 2004 - crossed for Felipe Caicedo, who fired wide.

Nicolas Anelka thought he had won a penalty just past the half-hour mark, but the referee didn’t see anything wrong with Nedam Onuoha’s challenge on the Frenchman.

Michael Ballack was having a frustrating afternoon in the centre of the park, and perhaps should have done better when the some neat play between Didier Drogba and Lampard presented him with an opportunity. But sliding in the German could only curl his effort past the other side of the post.

Robinho - who was inevitably given a hostile reception by the Stamford Bridge faithful - crossed low for Caicedo but Jose Bosingwa was in the right place at the right time and managed to clear to safety.

Hiddink was forced into a change just before half time when Deco hobbled off with an injury. Juliano Beltetti was his replacement.

Given was having a busy afternoon. His goal was peppered with shots from the men in  Blue, and he had to be at his best to deny Drogba after 51 minutes, who was played through by a Bosingwa pass.

With the direction of the play flowing almost exclusively in one direction, Mark Hughes’ team knew that their best opportunities would come from set plays. Elano was presented with just such an opportunity when he was brought down by John Terry. But to Hughes’ frustration the Brazilian playmaker’s effort was hit straight at the wall.

Beletti played a one-two with Essien with an hour on the clock, and advanced forward, striking the base of Given’s post.

A familiar sight in this match was of a prone Drogba lying injured on the Stamford Bridge turf. The Ivorian was eventually replaced by Florent Malouda, and some of Chelsea’s attacking verve went down the tunnel with him.

His replacement had the best chance to double Chelsea‘s advantage, but the winger shot into the side netting.

‘We’ve got our Essien back!’ chanted the massed ranks inside Stamford Bridge this afternoon. Chelsea will be hoping he can produce more performances like this as the business end of the season approaches.

Irrepressible Essien keeps the fire burning