Premier League: Manchester City end run of losses with win at Chelsea as rivals lose
26 September, 2021, 1:10 pm
Pep Guardiola has made some curious team selections in Manchester City’s run of losses against Chelsea.
This time, he got it just right.
In a surprisingly one-sided match between two Premier League title contenders, City delivered a statement performance in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Sunday NZ time) that could easily have been heavier had Guardiola had an out-and-out centre forward.
In the end, Gabriel Jesus – the closest thing City has to a striker – scored the winning goal in the 53rd minute from a shot on the turn that deflected off the heel of Chelsea midfielder Jorginho and squirmed into the bottom corner, with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy rooted to the spot.
Chelsea had beaten City in their last three meetings – most recently in the Champions League final in May – but was outplayed at Stamford Bridge, not even registering a shot on target.
Guardiola deployed a genuine defensive midfielder in Rodri this time – unlike in the Champions League final, when Ilkay Gundogan was overrun in that position – and he protected the defence superbly, helping limit Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku to scraps.
So, would people be right in saying that simply was the difference compared to that disappointing 1-0 loss in Porto?
“Maybe. Maybe they are right,” Guardiola said. “When we win, a manager is a genius. When we lose, we are losers, failures.”
City’s previous losses to Chelsea – in the league and in the FA Cup semifinals toward the end of last season – had also seen Guardiola tinker with his lineups. But he played his strongest possible team here, with Aymeric Laporte back to shore up the defense, and City was irresistible at times.
“They made us underperform,” Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said. “And it was deserved.”
The result lifted City above Chelsea in the standings, on goal difference after six games, but there was a greater significance to the victory.
After their strong start to the season – four wins, a draw at Liverpool and only one goal conceded – Chelsea had been anointed by increasing numbers as the title favorite.
But the way City dominated possession and reduced Chelsea to mostly long balls showed that Guardiola’s team, the defending champion, might still be the team to beat.
Although City has had some big wins this season, like the 5-0s against Norwich and Arsenal and a 6-3 over Leipzig in the Champions League, a 0-0 draw with Southampton last weekend was a glaring reminder of the fact Guardiola failed to sign a striker in the offseason to replace Sergio Aguero.
And against Chelsea, Guardiola’s team saw much more of the ball in midfield – the Spanish coach essentially played five attacking midfielders ahead of Rodri at the base – but there was no striker to make the kind of runs to finish off the flowing moves.
And, in the end, it required a lucky break to make the breakthrough after Joao Cancelo’s shot from the edge of the area landed at the feet of the Brazil forward, who was again used as a right winger at Stamford Bridge.
City regularly picked off Chelsea on the break after that, and only a goal-line clearance by Thiago Silva, who came on for the injured Reece James in the first half, prevented Jesus adding a second.
As for Chelsea, it had the kind of striker Guardiola craves – Lukaku – but he barely saw the ball. And when he did, his link-up play was off.
The hosts missed the energy of injured midfielder Mason Mount, in particular.
“Today the guys were outstanding,” Guardiola said. “At this stadium and against this opponent, to do what we have done makes me so proud.”
Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes missed an injury-time penalty as teammate Cristiano Ronaldo looked on in Manchester United’s 1-0 home loss to Aston Villa.
Villa defender Kortney Hause was the hero for the visitors after he flicked a header past goalkeeper David De Gea off a corner in the 88th minute for his team’s first victory over United since 2009.
But Hause was then whistled for a handball to set up the dramatic spot kick as United tried to rescue a point at Old Trafford.
Fernandes, who had converted a penalty in all three of his prior Premier League appearances against Villa, adjusted the ball as Ronaldo stood nearby and then blasted it high over the crossbar.
“Bruno is very strong mentally, normally, and unfortunately today it just didn’t go in,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told club media in postgame comments.
Solskjaer said Villa players “crowded Bruno” at the penalty spot before the key miss, but he had stronger criticism for the officiating on Hause’s goal. He said Villa forward Ollie Watkins was “clearly” offside.
United amassed 28 shots but just four were on target as they failed to score in a home Premier League game for the first time in 16 games.
It was United’s first loss of the Premier League season and second overall after a League Cup defeat in midweek. They have 13 points after six games.
United defenders Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw came off injured.
Villa hadn’t beaten United since December 2009, also at Old Trafford. The Birmingham squad has 10 points from six games and plays at Tottenham next Sunday in its third consecutive away game in all competitions.
“I might have a couple of beers tonight,” Villa manager Dean Smith told club media. “We don’t play until next Sunday now, so the lads can go and have a beer as well.”
Jamie Vardy scored an own-goal but still rescued a point for Leicester on Saturday and kept Burnley waiting for its first victory of the season.
The striker put through his own net for the first time in his career, but his brace ensured the Foxes grabbed a 2-2 draw.
Maxwel Cornet’s goal left Burnley on the brink of its first win at Leicester for 14 years before Vardy struck with five minutes left.
Chris Wood thought he had stolen the points in stoppage time when he headed in, but the goal was ruled out by VAR for offside.
The draw kept the battling Clarets, who impressed with their defensive resolve, in the Premier League drop zone while the Foxes sit 12th.
In other games, West Ham won 2-1 at Leeds, Everton inflicted Norwich’s sixth consecutive defeat, winning 2-0 at Goodison Park and Watford and Newcastle United battled to a 1-1 draw.