Manchester City returned to the Premier League summit with an outstanding win at reigning champions Chelsea that was far more convincing than the scoreline suggested.
Kevin de Bruyne’s spectacular 67th-minute winner against his former club, a rising left-foot drive from outside the area, gave Pep Guardiola’s side a victory their dominance deserved and saw them leapfrog back over arch-rivals Manchester United.
City were without striker Sergio Aguero, who sustained rib injuries in a car crash in Amsterdam on Thursday, while Chelsea lost top scorer Alvaro Morata to injury in the first half.
Guardiola’s men coped with Aguero’s absence superbly, and threatened to score long before De Bruyne finally broke the deadlock, with Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois making a brilliant reflex save from Fernandinho’s header before the break.
City never looked in danger once De Bruyne scored and almost added a second when Gabriel Jesus’ volley was headed off the line by Antonio Rudiger.
|City’s sensational September|
|In September, City have beaten Watford 6-0, Liverpool and Crystal Palace 5-0, Feyenoord 4-0, and now champions Chelsea 1-0 away from home. They also beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 and West Brom 2-1.|
City show all-round class
City have swept aside their past three Premier League opponents in a blaze of spectacular attacking football, scoring 16 goals without reply as Liverpool, Watford and Crystal Palace were thrashed 5-0, 6-0 and 5-0 respectively.
The visit to Chelsea was a different challenge making different demands of Pep Guardiola’s side – but they proved more than equal to the task.
Chelsea were never going to crumble under the weight of City’s attacks, or be overawed by the attacking riches they could offer, even in the absence of leading scorer Aguero.
City were going to require patience and perseverance, as well as the reserves of talent at Guardiola’s disposal, to get the job done at Stamford Bridge.
They provided all those things to end the day back at the Premier League summit, and deliver further evidence Guardiola is on the way to removing the soft underbelly that undermined much of City’s first season under his management.
City, with John Stones brave and solid as well as classy at the heart of defence, repelled the best a leggy Chelsea could offer and excelled at both ends of the pitch.
Manchester United have proved they are ready to mount a formidable challenge but this was the type of performance that will delight Guardiola and offer proof City are now able to adapt their style to suit all challenges.
Guardiola’s men flourish without Aguero
This outstanding result rounded off a troubled week for City, with key defender Benjamin Mendy possibly out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury, and Aguero sidelined after suffering rib injuries in a car crash in Amsterdam.
Aguero’s absence after scoring six goals in six league games this season threatened to be a particularly damaging blow, but this victory against the reigning champions and a side equipped to challenge again this season, demonstrated the strength and quality City possess.
In match-winner De Bruyne they have a rare attacking talent, a creator as well as scorer, as he proved with a thunderous finish in the game’s decisive moment.
And ahead of him the youthful zest and pace of Jesus and Leroy Sane, along with Raheem Sterling, meant City carried a constant threat throughout even without the world-class Aguero.
Guardiola wanted City to prove their strength and resilience without Aguero and Mendy. They did it in accomplished fashion.
Did Chelsea pay for European glory?
Chelsea were second best throughout as City emerged as deserved winners – but perhaps there were mitigating circumstances for the champions.
Antonio Conte’s side not only lost top scorer Morata to a hamstring injury in the first half, they also had 24 hours less preparation time than City after the midweek Champions League action.
After the game, Conte said he thought Morata’s injury would not be too serious. “He stopped before it became a serious injury,” said Conte. “He said he’d prefer to stop himself before risking a bad injury.”
City were at home as they beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 on Tuesday, while Chelsea had a physically and mentally draining evening as they beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 in Spain on Wednesday.
“We could take this as an excuse,” said Conte. “When you have to play another massive game a few days later, it’s impossible to press box to box.”
Chelsea were no match for City here, the scoreline flattering the home side – but it may just be that they paid the price for their exertions during that landmark win against Atletico.
Manager Antonio Conte will certainly hope this is the case because City looked ominously superior during this 90 minutes.
Man of the match – Kevin de Bruyne
Reaction – Conte not too concerned
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “For sure there is a disappointment for the result but I think when two great teams play these games anything can happen. I’m pleased with the commitment. Today we gave everything. The most important thing is to see your players gave you everything.
“We played against a very good team and we created chances but we didn’t take them. City took their chance. A great compliment to Manchester City.
“We have to try to put everything in every game, we did this today. We have to go game by game, to do our best and then I will see at the end of the season where we finish in the league. When I see that my players give everything, we must be pleased.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola to BBC Sport: “We are so happy. The most important thing is to win the game but the way we played, especially in the second half, was pleasing.
“We had control and in the second half we adjusted our possession and the way we attacked. They could not play and had to do long balls.”
Match stats – De Bruyne loves a long-range goal
- Chelsea have dropped eight points in four Premier League home games so far in 2017-18; two more than in the whole of 2016-17.
- Manchester City have kept four consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League for the first time since September 2015 (six games in that run).
- Chelsea have failed to score in consecutive home league games for the first time since November 2012.
- Chelsea had 38% possession, their second-lowest in a home Premier League game since 2003-04 (lowest is the 29.6% v Man Utd in April 2015).
- Pep Guardiola enjoyed his first victory against Chelsea in eight games in all competitions (not including shootout wins), after previously losing three and drawing four.
- Kevin de Bruyne has been directly involved in 15 goals in his past 17 Premier League appearances (3 goals, 12 assists).
- Nine of De Bruyne’s past 11 goals for City in all competitions have come from outside the box, including each of the past four.
- Gabriel Jesus has had a hand in 16 goals in his 16 Premier League games, scoring 11 and assisting five.
After the international break, Chelsea go to Crystal Palace, who have lost all seven games this season without scoring, at 15:00 BST on Saturday, 14 October. Manchester City host Stoke City at the same time.