Manchester City returned to winning ways with a 2-1 success over Chelsea on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium, ending the Londoners’ run of six straight victories and keeping Pep Guardiola’s side nine points behind leaders Liverpool.
City’s loss at Anfield before the international break made this a key game for them but they were made to work for their three points by Frank Lampard’s enterprising side.
It was a game where Chelsea showed, once again, that they are a team with huge potential but not yet the steel and defensive solidity to compete with the very best. And while City will be relieved to have emerged with the three points, Guardiola will be concerned that his team still look substantially short of their top form.
The Spaniard made five changes from the loss at Anfield with, most significantly, goalkeeper Ederson returning from injury.
Chelsea welcomed Jorginho back into their midfield and American winger Christian Pulisic was passed fit despite having struggled with a groin injury. Lampard’s side started brightly, bubbling with confidence and moving with such speed and invention that City were struggling to keep up but it was a move of direct simplicity that opened the scoring in the 22nd minute.
Mateo Kovacic superbly picked out N’Golo Kante’s forward burst and the French midfielder held off compatriot Benjamin Mendy before smartly slipping the ball past the advancing Ederson.
But six minutes later Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne brought the champions level when the ball fell to him on the edge of the box and he cleverly wrongfooted the Chelsea defence before unleashing a low drive which took two deflections before rattling past Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea had looked the slicker and sharper of the two teams — and indeed enjoyed the rare status of having more possession at the Etihad – but it was Guardiola’s side who went in with the advantage at the break. Riyad Mahrez cut in from the left and, with Chelsea’s defence backing off, he drove a left-foot shot into the far bottom corner to make it 2-1.
Chelsea nearly put themselves out of the game two minutes before the break when Kepa gifted the ball to Sergio Aguero but the Argentine’s shot from distance crashed off the bar.
Inevitably there was some VAR controversy before the end, with Raheem Sterling’s stoppage-time effort ruled out for what appeared to be a very tight offside call. The encounter was the first home match under Guardiola that City did not enjoy the majority of possession — they had just 46.7%.