Manchester City made light work of Chelsea as they tore apart last season’s finalist at the Etihad Stadium. A Riyad Mahrez brace was added to by World Cup winner Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden as City brushed their fellow Premier League aside.
Following the 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, Pep Guardiola made seven changes to the City side, with Cole Palmer, Alvarez and Mahrez leading the attack, with Erling Haaland, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan on the bench. To be fair, City didn’t really need to trouble the trio and Guardiola made sure they were rested for the blues trip to Old Trafford at the weekend.
This was the second meeting in four days between the two sides, and if Thursday’s meeting at Stamford Bridge was a tight, tense affair, this third-round tie was anything but as City ripped into their opponents in a devasting first half that saw the blues go into the break with a three-goal advantage.
The blues look ominous in front of goal, while keeping Chelsea firmly at bay. City were at the visitors wherever possible, snapping at the heels of the London side when not in possession and mopping up any loose balls, turning defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Foden, who kept his place in the side despite an abject performance on Thursday, showed the home fans exactly why Guardiola retained his faith, being a threat in attack and proving to be a handful on the left wing, along with Sergio Gomez, who took advantage of Chelsea’s lack of ambition to play further up the field than a left-back should.
Chelsea offered very little in front of goal and didn’t muster a shot, either on or off target, for the first 45 minutes. By comparison, City had seven attempts at goal, six on target with half of those finding the back of the net. And the blues may well have had more if they hadn’t visibly taken their foot off the gas in the second half.
But City really didn’t need to exert any more energy than was needed in a game that was effectively over at half-time. Mahrez’s stunning free-kick fired the blues in front after 23 minutes, and Alvarez added to the scoreline seven minutes later. VAR had looked at a possible penalty but had to wait a few minutes for the ball to go out of play and when it did, the referee had no hesitation in awarding the blues a spot-kick after Kai Havertz’s clear handball. Chelsea keeper Kepa tried a few mind games with the Argentine star, but it didn’t work as Alvarez made it 2-0.
Phil Foden then finished off an excellent team move that started with Kyle Walker’s turn of pace just inside the Chelsea half. The ball spread to the left, then back right to Mahrez, whose perfectly weighted pass found the marauding Walker charging forward. His pass to the centre of the penalty area was converted by Foden and the blues were rampant.
The visitors made a couple of changes at the break and, despite an improved performance, always looked like they would concede more. City, meanwhile, were content to play the ball between them and make little effort in going forward, but there was always the feeling that, should Chelsea manage to score, City would step it up.
The brilliant Mahrez saw a curling shot whistle past the post before the blues were awarded a second penalty when Kalidou Koulibaly left a trailing leg as Foden went through on goal. Mahrez took responsibility for the penalty and fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the goal.
Routine and ruthless
It was just what the doctor ordered with the Manchester derby around the corner. It was a routine display against one of the top sides in the Premier League without three players who are usually first on the teamsheet. From the first whistle, it was clear the blues would go for the jugular, and, although it took some time to warm up, once City got the first goal, the result was never in doubt.
The blues relentlessly chased the ball when not in possession, hassling and harrying the opposition into mistakes. And when Chelsea lost the ball through a misplaced pass or a timely tackle, there was a blue on hand to sweep the ball up and drive forward another attack. City were ruthless in front of goal. Not as much as they could have been, but they took their chances and took them well.
Mahrez found the top corner with a perfect free-kick while Foden’s goal was the result of some excellent team play. City stretched the Chelsea defence, dragging them one way, then the next, leaving them chasing shadows as Walker plundered through the defence to set up the Stockport Iniesta for City’s third. Redemption for Foden and also for Mahrez, whose penalty almost broke the goal. The Algerian missed two in the Champions League; ultimately, it didn’t matter as the blues still finished top of the group, it was good to see that Mahrez can still hit the back of the net from 12 yards.
Ruthless has been used so many times to describe City, but against Chelsea, routine victory hasn’t been a phrase used often. But with five straight victories over the London side, made more impressive by the fact that run includes five clean sheets, routine is getting to be a habit.
And long may it continue.