Manchester City’s 1-0 victory at Chelsea took the blues into 2nd place in the Premier League, ad gave them the ideal start to one of the most difficult weeks of the season so far.
The blues travel to Paris to face PSG on Tuesday, before a top of the table clash with Liverpool at Anfield, where the home side will be eager to avenge last season’s 4-1 drubbing at City’s hands. But first, the blues travelled to West London, with the focus on how manager Pep Guardiola would get the better of his Chelsea counterpart, Thomas Tuchel.
The German boss arrived at Chelsea in January and transformed the team, taking them to the FA Cup and Champions League finals and, as well documented, beat City three times in the process. Revenge will not have been on Guardiola’s mind as he set his team out to face the Londoners, however, it was clear from the first minute that the Catalan boss had got his tactics spot on.
The blues pressed from kick-off, and after ten minutes of constant City pressure, the faithful had every reason to be optimistic about the end result, although it has been known for City to apply that sort of pressure and still lose.
In 2004, Kevin Keegan’s blues dominated a home fixture against Chelsea, spurning numerous chances before falling to an 82nd minute Eidur Gudjohnsen goal. It was a ‘typical City’ moment, dominating a match they would ultimately lose, and there was still an element of doubt that City could keep it up and win the match.
Chelsea had enjoyed an unbeaten start and an enviable home record against the blues, and with Romelu Lukaku in good form, and pundits already crowning them as champions, it looked a tough order for the blues to take anything from the match. City were boosted by the return of Aymeric Laporte to partner Ruben Dias in defence, and Joao Cancelo slotted in at left back as the blues took on their familiar 4-3-3 shape.
The home side packed the midfield, with Reece James and Marcos Alonso operating as wing backs as they tried to counter the pace of Kyle Walker and Cancelo, both of whom get forward at every opportunity.
City were by far the better team in the opening exchanges and continually pinned the home side to their own half. Brief scurries forward by Chelsea were easily snuffed out by the rock-solid defence, that has not conceded a league goal since the opening day defeat to Spurs.
But what was impressive for the blues was their determination to win the ball back once it had been lost. Criticism was levelled at City following the CL final that they hadn’t mopped up the loose balls, and that allowed Chelsea the space and freedom to launch attacks on the blues defence. On Saturday, City were in like a shot on any loose ball, a foot in just to nick it away from a home player. At one point, an offside Phil Foden collected the ball, which subsequently ran away from him, but it didn’t stop the youngster from sliding in to take it off the toes of the Chelsea man.
That was the level of determination City had which Chelsea didn’t possess, and ultimately was the difference between the two sides.
City pressed up to the half-time whistle, forcing corner after corner which came to nothing, and pressing into the Chelsea box at goal-kicks, so much to the point that Mendy in the Chelsea goal eventually gave up and went long.
Chances were few as City tried to break through the stubborn home defence and those doubts, which some of the faithful still harboured from the days of hope and despair, will have surfaced again.
But all that changed in the second half, and the blues, with the ever-impressive Bernardo Silva running the midfield. If the Portuguese genius wanted to leave the blues, as it was rumoured continually over the summer, he didn’t show it, and Silva must have covered every blade of grass on the Stamford Bridge pitch. Time and again, the midfielder was back helping in defence or powering forward to start another attack.
And it was Silva who received a short corner from Kevin de Bruyne in the 53rd minute that eventually lead to the goal. Silva’s ball found de Bruyne, who had time and space to pass to Cancelo. With the City crowd urging the Portuguese defender to shoot, Cancelo lined up a shot, before cutting inside the committed defender and hit a weak left foot shot into the crowded penalty area. Jesus inadvertently intercepted, but the Brazilian showed composure to control the ball and, with three Chelsea players around him, hit a right foot shot that took a deflection of Jorginho and rolled past Mendy into the back of the goal.
It was no more than City deserved and they should have had more as City continued to look more like the home side than the actual home side.
The brilliant Grealish, who looks every bit like he’s been playing in the side for years, released Cancelo and his de Bruyne-esque pass across goal had Chelsea scrambling. Mendy got a hand to it, but only parried it to Jesus and his first time shot looked every inch a certain goal, until Thiago Silva cleared off the line. Grealish himself had two opportunities to increase the lead but was denied on both occasions by Mendy.
Sensing a growing danger as Chelsea threw all hands to the pump, Guardiola sent on Fernandinho to shore up the defence and ensure the blues job was done. The fresh legs of the Brazilian stalwart were a welcome relief as the home side looked tried to take the ascendency.
But City were defensively solid and kept the Chelsea attack at bay. Lukaku, who had been so potent in front of goal since his return to Chelsea, was almost non-existent and it would have been easy to forget he was on the field. Laporte and Dias kept him at arm’s length for most of the match, and when the Belgian finally got free from the shackles to score, an offside had already been called, much to the relief of the faithful.
The striker gained a reputation for going missing in big games during his time at Old Trafford, and he is threatening to do the same again, having failed to score against Liverpool, Spurs and now City, and that will no doubt be a concern to Tuchel, who will be reliant on the big striker to boost their title hopes. And it was clear from the animation of Tuchel on the sidelines, who was so relaxed during that night in Porto, that the blues had got to him, and German wasn’t happy about his team, who usually do the bullying, being bullied themselves.
It was a workhorse performance from the blues, and in the end, one goal was all it took to secure the points, but more importantly, a fifth clean sheet in six games could prove vital towards the end of the season. If we’re scoring and not conceding, City will be there or there abouts come the end of the season.