it’s not even December yet, but even at this relatively early stage of the Premier League season, it felt like Manchester City needed to beat high-flying Chelsea on Saturday to have any hope of retaining the English title it won in each of the last two seasons.
Apparently the Citizens themselves felt the same way, as Pep Guardiola’s team overcame a first half deficit to earn a 2-1 victory and three badly needed points, leapfrogging the Blues into third place behind Leicester City and table-topping Liverpool.
N’Golo Kante gave Chelsea — winners of six consecutive league games entering the match — a deserved lead in the 21st minute. The visitors had been bossing the contest when Kante got on the end of a long pass from Mateo Kovacic and poked the ball past City keeper Ederson:
City’s response was immediate, grabbing back the momentum. With Frank Lampard’s side suddenly on the back foot, in only took eight minutes for Kevin de Bruyne to take advantage of some poor defending and equalize:
If City’s first goal was a result of tenacity and a bit of good luck, the go-ahead strike was all about individual quality from Riyad Mahrez. After darting between Chelsea defenders Emerson Palmieri and Kovacic, the Algerian finished off his solo effort with a pinpoint left-footed shot that beat Kepa Arrizabalaga inside his far post:
Arrizabalaga nearly gifted the host a third goal before the half was out, but Sergio Aguero’s shot was saved by the crossbar. Chelsea still couldn’t find a way back into the match, though, the final scoreline flattering them after Raheem Sterling’s stoppage-time strike was nullified after VAR determined that Sterling was a hair offside.
Here are three quick thoughts on the match.
Manchester City shows that it’s still in the fight
The schedule didn’t do Guardiola and Co. any favors, as the Sky Blues ended up in marquee contests on either side of the international break. And after a controversial loss to Liverpool two weekends ago, they needed not just a point, but all three against England’s hottest team.
After a slow start to Lampard’s first season in charge, Chelsea’s young and dynamic (and yes, likable) squad had been among the Prem’s best since the beginning of October. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when they went ahead in this one.
City’s response was phenomenal, though. And the implication was clear. While the Reds have an eight-point cushion atop the standings, there’s an awful lot of season left. Guardiola’s men are two-time defending champions for a reason. They’re not going to go away easily.
Chelsea shouldn’t be too hard on themselves
Compared to their recent performances, this one wasn’t great. But then traveling to the City of Manchester Stadium was always going to pose a stern test for a side that, for all its youth and vigor, still lacks top-end experience across much of the lineup. The task became even harder after City’s Nov. 10 defeat at Anfield.
Chelsea wasn’t going to win every game until the end of the campaign. There’s no shame in leaving Manchester empty-handed. Besides, they don’t have much time to fell sorry for themselves. Up next is a pivotal midweek trip to Valencia in the Champions League, a match the Blues will want badly after losing to the Spaniards at Stamford Bridge. Reeling West Ham visits after that. Win both of those, and Saturday’s setback will feel like a distant memory.
A quiet game for Christian Pulisic
With five goals in his last three Premier League matches, Pulisic had been one of the keys to Chelsea’s rich vein of form. But it was unclear if the American would be available for this one after limping out the Blues’ last match versus Crystal Palace with a hip injury that prevented him from participating in the U.S. men’s national team’s two recent CONCACAF Nations League wins.
Well, Pulisic got the start. And once again, he was one of Chelsea’s most dangerous threats. But the final ball play wasn’t there for him or fellow attackers Tammy Abraham and Willian on Saturday. Against an opponent of City’s quality, it happens. It’s hard to imagine Lampard sending Pulisic back to the bench based on this performance, but the manager will surely demand that the 21-year-old return to the score sheet soon.
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