It’s fair to say Kevin De Bruyne has a history with Chelsea. And not just because of his frustrating stint at the club earlier in his career. The Manchester City midfielder was injured at every level by them in last season’s Champions League final – which was roughed up by Antonio Rudiger, and his game ended early with a broken eye injury. Also awarded a runner-up medal.
This was a measure of revenge. It was a zigzag encounter between the first and second away in the Premier League, marked mainly by what didn’t happen. Romelu Lukaku did not make a direct pass that could have made Hakim Ziyech and the Chelsea striker did not beat Ederson when he scored on goal. As for City, Jack Grealish didn’t finish when he had one-on-one with Kepa Arrizabalaga.
But City were the better team, Chelsea didn’t show enough ambition, and De Bruyne made the difference with a goal that showed many of his best qualities.
There was the intelligence to spot the space between the lines, get N’Golo Kante’s goal, and then the strength to ride the Chelsea midfielder’s attempt to slip. Finally, when neither Thiago Silva nor Mateo Kovacic could get close to him, there was a wonderful right-footed curly from outside the area that was too much for Arrizabalaga, who seemed to show him a lot from the far corner.
Chelsea needed a win to maintain their faint hopes of a title challenge, but City, who started 10 points from the visitors, will not be caught now. Can Liverpool stop City? It seems unlikely after this 12th league win on Pep Guardiola’s machine. He’s poised for an amazing fourth title in five years and that’s what the breed looks like. For Chelsea, he now has two wins in eight in the competition. They let their standards slide.
The city holds this fear factor as opposing teams can have the damage limit as a legitimate end. However, it was disappointing to see how Chelsea warmed up, Thomas Tuchel’s back three look more like a five-man, Christian Pulisic and Ziyech often delving into the inside front roles. Only Mason Mount will be used as a substitute in the 81st minute. Chelsea were happy to concede the lead to City, and asked if they could break it. “Boring, boring, Chelsea,” grumbled the home crowd.
With Raheem Sterling accelerating for Marcos Alonso to the City’s right, battle lines were drawn early, and the home side controlled the ball in search of a crevice. Chelsea wanted to respond and they had chances to do so, especially in the first quarter of the game, but they missed the last pass.
Tuchel’s professional drama brand was shown because Ziyech was guilty of misplacing two balls, one for Lukaku, who scrambled into the inner right channel. But it was the striker who made a big mistake in the tenth minute.
Lukaku took advantage when the John Stones missed a tackle, allowing him to move forward, and he had the option to shoot, go left or right. He chose the latter, trying to get into Ziyech, only to dreadfully cross the pass. Ziyech was also an intruder. I felt Chelsea could regret it.
Chelsea defended well in front of their penalty area but struggled to get out of half of them, especially before the first half – a result of how hard and powerful City were pressing.
Stones had headed straight for Arrizabalaga from a corner kick in the 14th minute, and a shot for the first half came from City’s point of view a little after half an hour. Phil Foden, who played the ninth false, cut through the left interior, bypassing a batch of dark blue jerseys to cross, but no one was attacking the six-yard square.
The big moment came in the first half in the 39th minute. I play Alonso on Kovacic in trouble, and with De Bruyne everywhere, the Chelsea midfielder tried to move him into the box. De Bruyne made an intervention and patted the ball gently for Grealish who had only Arrizabalaga to beat. Chelsea came under attack but Grealish couldn’t finish the match, and Arrizabalaga quickly went off and was able to turn his shot off the post.
Chelsea had not mustered a shot on target before the second half but they rushed forward to do so right after the start of the second half when Kovacic fired at Lukaku. He knew what he wanted to do: open his body and bend a left-footed shot past Ederson, who was way off his line. The problem was that everyone on the field also knew the plan, including Ederson, who came to the rescue. This will be Chelsea’s only shot on target, and for Lukaku, it will be a day to forget.
Aside from Tuchel, there was a strange lack of energy around such a big game for extended periods, including from the stands. Chelsea Champions League Cup Rubber Backing Board; Their counterparts in town searched for something to fall behind.
Presented by De Bruyne. He had worked on an Arrizabalaga free kick and Sterling pulled a shot off the far post from Foden’s pass as De Bruyne cemented the match with the force of his will. Chelsea’s replacement, Timo Werner, will see a shot saved as Foden shoots high of late. City did enough.