One curious statistic before Manchester City’s match against Chelsea was that this was the first time in four-and-a-half years that Pep Guardiola’s side had gone into a game as the underdogs with the bookmakers. Nobody seemed to have told the players.
Manchester City’s performance was dominant. Gabriel Jesus scored the only goal of the game but 1-0 flattered the home side at Stamford Bridge. It was a timely reminder that the Premier League champions are still the team to beat in this title race.
Chelsea’s status as favourites made some sense given that Thomas Tuchel had masterminded three wins out of three against City. But a change of system to include three midfielders set a tone that was too cautious. It seemed to infect his team’s approach.
“I did not feel the belief,” said Tuchel afterwards. “It felt like we had something to lose.” City did not score in the opening 45 minutes but they played all the football. Chelsea struggled to find a way out of their own half. Tuchel has got lots right but not this.
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Jesus’ goal came via a deflection but was the culmination of heavy pressure, one of half a dozen attempts on goal in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Chelsea, by contrast, mustered only one shot in the first hour. Ederson did not make a save all match.
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City have had their slips this season. The defeat to Tottenham. The stalemate with Southampton. It has been feast or famine. Other than that shut-out against Saints, their other four home games this season have seen them average five-and-a-half goals.
They are still the team most likely to blow opponents away, that is clear. There have been two 5-0 wins already in this Premier League season. But would they leak away too many points?
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win against Chelsea in the Premier League.
That is why this was a huge moment, even in September. Had City lost, it was a day when Chelsea and Manchester United could have moved six points ahead by the time Liverpool would have had the opportunity to do the same later in the afternoon.
Instead they sit second, one point off the top, having showcased some of the strengths of City at their best. Their pressing was relentless, helped no doubt by the fact that their dominance for large periods was so total that they were rarely out of possession.
Pep Guardiola was delighted with Man City’s performance at Chelsea
Bernardo Silva led the way with an eye-catching display, highlighting his importance from a defensive perspective. Nobody on the pitch made more tackles. Nobody on the pitch made more clearances. The intensity of his game makes it uncomfortable for others.
Such was City’s pressing that the high line they were holding could not be exploited. Timo Werner had been included for that reason but his teammates had so little time and space that they had little hope of picking out the passes that could have caused problems.
Pep Guardiola was proud after setting a club record 221st win as Man City boss
Romelu Lukaku was controlled by Ruben Dias – largely fairly until one wild hack in stoppage time. When Chelsea finally opened up late on, the Portuguese defender headed away the crosses. When Mateo Kovacic raced through, he was there to block the shot.
The result is that the Heung-Min Son goal that deceived Ederson on the opening weekend of the Premier League season is still the only one that Manchester City have conceded in the competition. Last season’s top scorers had the best defensive record too.
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There will be further tests and they will come soon. It is Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. It is Liverpool and the unique challenge of a packed Anfield next weekend. But what this win over Chelsea showed is that the mentality of Manchester City will not change.
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“The way we play in every game, with incredible courage, at Stamford Bridge, at Anfield, any time, we try to do our game,” said Guardiola afterwards. “That makes me proud.”
A glance at the early betting odds for the Liverpool game suggests Manchester City will be narrow favourites for that, the favourites again for the title. It is another massive game. But the Premier League champions go into it having reaffirmed their status.
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