Manchester City leave Chelsea with duelling scars after high-class hoot | Paul Wilson
Manchester City at the moment could not be boring if they tried.here was a great deal of swash and buckle in this game. Encounters between top-four sides are often dull, cautious affairs but Chelsea and
True, there were enough defensive mistakes to drive both managers mad and remind everyone they were not necessarily watching the most refined level of football but in terms of entertainment the evening was a high-class hoot. Each side knew they were capable of hurting the other and took it in turn to launch precision strikes of increasing audacity so that long before the end both defences were left with the footballing equivalent of duelling scars.
It was great to watch – exactly what one might expect with so much attacking quality on show – and the pick of an attractive bunch might just have been the man who missed City’s defeat by Liverpool, Riyad Mahrez. Quite possibly playing only because Bernardo Silva was suspended, Mahrez took on the Chelsea defence directly to put City in front and almost repeated the trick early in the second half.
Just four minutes of an absorbing contest had elapsed when Fernandinho looked up with the ball at his feet in his own half and threaded a pass right through to Sergio Agüero just outside the penalty area. The striker had dropped short because he knew Kevin De Bruyne was about to run beyond him and with a first-time pass he played the midfielder clear on goal. De Bruyne’s shot rolled just wide of an upright but it was a warning to Chelsea: out of nothing two smart passes had opened them up through the middle.
Most teams might have fallen back a little out of respect, cut out some of the adventurous stuff in favour of keeping a few more men behind the halfway line. But the thing about Frank Lampard’s Chelsea is that they are equally capable of such rapier thrusts and they know it. So when Mahrez rather dozily lost the ball a few minutes later Emerson and Tammy Abraham moved it swiftly across to the right, where Willian was charging into the area. His shot, too, was narrowly wide and City had also been warned.
Perhaps the home side did not pay sufficient heed quickly enough. When Willian drove a perfectly weighted crossfield pass from right to left City’s newly restored right-back João Cancelo, one of five changes Pep Guardiola made after the defeat at Anfield, was miles out of position. After being picked out in an astonishing amount of space Emerson should have done better than shoot tamely at Ederson with a clear sight of goal.
That was exactly what N’Golo Kanté did not have when he opened the scoring midway through the first half, though he knew where the goal was. The quality of Mateo Kovacic’s pass was such that only the deftest flick was necessary to find the target because Benjamin Mendy was all that was left of the City defence.
Now City had to show what they were made of, just as when they fell behind in their last game. This time they managed to retrieve the situation before half-time. De Bruyne deserved a lot of credit for the equaliser because he started the move on the halfway line before finishing it from the edge of the area, though Chelsea will feel aggrieved that not one but two deflections allowed their opponents to get back on terms.
Mahrez’s goal to put his side in front was much more like it, the winger taking on and beating Kovacic and Emerson with a diagonal run into the area before slotting a shot past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Agüero could have wrapped up the points with a little more composure after Arrizabalaga’s aberration before the interval, though many fans would have been happy for the ding-dong to continue into the second half, where Kanté duly went agonisingly close at one end before De Bruyne did the same at the other. Even when Guardiola sent on Phil Foden for the last half‑hour Lampard responded in kind with Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount. It was as if the title race was a secondary concern for both clubs, which might well be the case if Liverpool keep winning.