Chelsea 2 Man City 1: Belgian turns on the style to give Pep a major headache
Just as talk of a title race ratcheted up, Chelsea merely picked up speed again. This Eden Hazard-inspired, goalkeeper-influenced 2-1 win over Manchester City does not quite mean the discussion goes back to when they win the title rather than if, given Tottenham’s admirable late win at Swansea, but it does restore Chelsea’s intimidating aura after the weekend’s defeat to Crystal Palace.
They responded so resolutely.
As for Pep Guardiola’s aura, that is significantly diminished. Beyond the fact City are now five games without a win in the league, this defeat represented the first time that he has lost six times in a single league season, and the first time he has twice lost to the same manager in a single league season.
Guardiola just can’t quite get it right, and his side can’t quite seem to build on what they do well. That is not the case for Hazard at the moment, who is back on player-of-the-season form. Chelsea are, meanwhile, back on winning form, after a brief halt.
It was a game almost completely played at hurricane pace. That is of course what both managers idealise but then they both also revealed in the last few days that they tend to obsess over errors much more than what they have done well. The wonder is how long they will spend on this, because it was a game played at exactly the kind of pace where mistakes are inevitable, especially in defence.
Take the first couple of goals. Chelsea admittedly burst at City in a blur, but there was still so much space for Cesar Azpilicueta to run into and even more for him to pick out Hazard. The Belgian looked to pick his spot, only for the ball to deflect off the returned Vincent Kompany’s head and past Willy Caballero.
If there was some debate over whether the City goalkeeper was at fault, there could be no doubt his Chelsea counterpart was at fault for the equaliser.
Guardiola’s team got into gear once Sergio Aguero tore straight at David Luiz and Gary Cahill to shoot, and leave the two central defenders arguing about who was to challenge him. It seemed there was still confusion in the backline when Thibaut Courtois then played a ball straight to David Silva. The playmaker’s shot was parried, but only to the waiting Aguero to make it 1-1.
City looked to be on a wave, only to again be undone in a self-damaging manner we have seen so often this season. Without the midfielders to properly control games, it means so much of their play and so many of their players are so rushed. Fernandinho then predictably rushed into the back of Pedro in the box, for a Chelsea penalty. Caballero redeemed himself by saving Hazard’s shot, only for the Belgian to redeem himself by poking in the rebound.
This is perhaps the biggest issue with Guardiola’s side, even beyond the defending. In fact, the problems with the backline come because they just don’t control matches.
Chelsea don’t usually have that problem, especially when they’re in the lead. It’s a nice position for any team but particularly suits them for how it allows them to sit and then counter with scorching pace.
But while they generally did that, they were forced into a reshuffle with the replacement of Kurt Zouma with Nemanja Matic, which also temporarily left them susceptible to deliveries. City had three similar occasions when they might have scored, but couldn’t take advantage of any.
It is going to be very difficult to wrestle the title out of Chelsea’s arms. They simply look too durable, too resolute, no matter what Spurs seem to do.
Chelsea can match anyone for pace, since they are so clearly setting it.
Chelsea: Courtois, Zouma (Matic 45), Luiz, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Kante, Fabregas (Willian 81), Alonso, Pedro, Hazard (Loftus-Cheek 90), Costa. Subs not used: Begovic, Aké, Batshuayi, Terry.
Man City: Caballero, Navas, Kompany, Stones, Clichy, Fernandinho, Delph, De Bruyne (Sterling 79), Silva, Sané (Nolito 85), Agüero. Subs not used: Bravo, Zabaleta, Fernando, Kolarov, Y Toure.
Referee: Mike Dean