Manchester City once again left Stamford Bridge with three points as the defending champions defeated Chelsea 1-0 to cut their deficit to five points, with the most gruelling stretch of games still to come.
After a disappointing performance and result to Everton during the weekend, Pep Guardiola once again heavily rotated his side.
Ederson started in goal, with John Stones and Nathan Ake in defence; Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker made their first starts since the World Cup. The midfield trio of Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan returned. Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva were seemingly set to start on the wings, with Erling Haaland up front.
However, just seconds into the game, it became apparent that this was going to be one of those particular Guardiola lineup games. Cancelo was actually deployed in a right-wing role, with Rodri splitting time between centre-back and holding midfield.
It was a nervy opening 20 minutes as City attempted to get familiar with their newfound shape and the awkward lineup left the Premier League champions susceptible to counterattacks whenever possession was lost.
Chelsea had their best moment to take advantage of City’s disarray in the 16th minute when Kai Havertz found Christian Pulisic tearing through the City box. However, just as the American was about to take a shot from point-blank range, Stones came sliding in to knock the ball away.
Following the tackle, Pulisic stayed down and was substituted off for Carney Chukwumeka. It was the second time Graham Potter was forced to make an injury substitution after Raheem Sterling was forced off inside the first 10 minutes.
Following both injury substitutions, City began to take control of the match. The Blues were able to slow down the game, constantly switch sides and have Cancelo isolate Marc Cucurella on the far right side of the pitch.
The Portuguese fullback-turned-winger was often able to beat the former Brighton defender to create chances that City were unable to capitalise on.
Haaland and De Bruyne were able to have a few near efforts and cause Kepa to make a few pedestrian saves, but after 45 minutes, it was beginning to look like a failed experiment.
However, Guardiola elected to go with two halftime changes, bringing on Rico Lewis and Manuel Akanji for Cancelo and Walker.
And just from the opening minutes of the second half, City looked like a different side.
In the 51st minute, Ake nearly broke the deadlock when his header hit the crossbar. The Dutchman made a late run into the box following a corner in what looked like an identical move from the goal he scored last month against Liverpool.
City had sustained pressure following Ake’s effort, and in the 60th minute, Guardiola brought on Riyad Mahrez for Bernardo and Jack Grealish for Foden.
From the moment Grealish came on, he was a constant threat in the box, receiving the ball on the left wing and carrying it into Chelsea’s area.
In the 64th minute, City recovered possession and began to get pressed by Chelsea. Akanji broke the press and found Lewis at midfield to start the attack. City kept moving the ball around and found Grealish making a run into the box. Grealish played the ball first time and rifled a cross to the far post, where Mahrez was making a run for the simple tap-in.
It was a well-worked goal and capped off a great second-half performance from a side that looked lost for large parts of the first half.
A lot has been said about Grealish and whether or not his time has been a success at City, but the 27-year-old now has three assists in his last three games as the £100m former Aston Villa attacker is beginning to look more comfortable in sky blue.
Haaland had an opportunity to double City’s lead in the 72nd minute, but the ball was played to him with just a touch too much pace, and the Norwegian was unable to keep up with it.
The scoreline remained at 1-0 as Guardiola’s side picked up a much-needed three points as they now only sit five points behind Arsenal.
Man of the Match
Part of me wanted to give the award to Rico Lewis or Jack Grealish for making instant impacts that changed the game, but I felt inclined to highlight John Stones. The 28-year-old has been the unsung hero for multiple title races, and a few deep tournament runs by England. Both his distribution and defensive prowess were needed today. A boulder at the back.
De Bruyne: 6
Subs: Lewis: 8, Akanji: 7, Grealish: 8, Mahrez: 8, Phillips: N/A
Written by: @IVIeehan
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