N’Golo Kante’s third goal of the season put us in front at the home of the champions but Manchester City hit back twice within 15 minutes to inflict the first league defeat since September on Frank Lampard’s side.
Kante’s goal was beautifully crafted and expertly finished to give Chelsea the lead a quarter of the way through a pulsating encounter in the Premier League. However, City managed a quick response as Kevin De Bruyne equalised and Riyad Mahrez fired them in front.
It went down to the wire despite chances falling for both teams throughout the following 50 minutes. There were goal-line clearances and goal-mouth scrambles, while Ederson expertly denied Willian and Mason Mount’s powerful free-kick narrowly missed the target late in stoppage time. City also hit the woodwork through Sergio Aguero, while Kepa Arrizabalaga made some impressive saves of his own.
In the end, despite our best efforts, it was a first loss on the road in any competition since the opening weekend of the season. The result means we drop to fourth.
There were two changes from our last Premier League outing prior to the international break as Mount and Reece James dropped to the bench, replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho, the latter returning from suspension.
Kante made his 150th Chelsea appearance in midfield, while Tammy Abraham continued to lead the line up front. City had goalkeeper Ederson and captain David Silva back in the team.
There was no post-internationals hangover in Manchester as both sides played their part in a fast-paced start under the lights at the Etihad. De Bruyne and Willian both saw similar opportunities flash just wide in the opening minutes, the Belgian firing across goal from the right before Abraham teed up our Brazilian winger on the break but he missed the target by inches.
While the hosts edged the possession statistics in the early stages, it was Chelsea who were able to carve out the clearer chances. Abraham got his angles wrong with his first sighter from 20 yards, which lacked the bend to trouble Ederson, before Fikayo Tomori thundered a left-footed effort wide after a mini game of head tennis in the City 18-yard box.
The Blues were brave in building possession from the back in the face of intense pressing, while also able to find large spaces in the opposition half when turning the ball over in midfield.
Willian proved a threat when collecting the ball on the right, drifting infield past sky blue shirts before finding Emerson in space on the opposite flank. The full-back had options in the box but tried to catch Ederson out at his near post, though City’s keeper was not fooled.
Midway through the half, the visitors broke the deadlock as the pre-planned tactic to release Kante in behind paid dividends. Mateo Kovacic turned provider with a measured ball over the top to find our French midfielder’s clever diagonal dart forward and Kante did the rest, holding off the challenge of his compatriot Benjamin Mendy before steering a shot underneath Ederson.
It was a goal that added to the nervous energy around the stadium, as did the following five minutes as the visitors beat the champions to every loose ball and forced mistakes. However, so much of City’s success in recent years has come courtesy of their firepower and the lively De Bruyne stepped up to fire in the equaliser seven minutes after our opener. It was a decent effort from the former Chelsea man, aided by a hefty deflection off Zouma that wrong-footed Kepa.
The balance of play in a topsy-turvy contest subsequently shifted the way of Pep Guardiola’s side and De Bruyne was next to take aim again, unleashing a rising strike narrowly over the crossbar and into the travelling supporters behind Kepa’s goal.
Yet City soon found a second as Mahrez punished our loose play in midfield, cutting inside from the right and curling into the bottom corner with a precise left-footed finish. The damage could have been greater before the break when Kepa’s kick out fell straight to Aguero and the Argentinian scooped the ball over the stranded goalkeeper, though the crossbar came to our rescue and the danger was eventually averted.
The second period opened more tentatively, with Mahrez shooting wide from the right four minutes after the restart. A third goal for the hosts may have ended the contest but Chelsea rode the storm and kept the deficit at one.
Kante’s efficiency in front of goal this season has been impressive, with his first-half goal his third from as many shots in the Premier League. He almost made it four when Azpilicueta cut an inviting pass back into his path but Fernandinho did well to get in a block that diverted the ball behind.
Down the other end, Joao Cancelo thought he had extended his side’s lead following a clever corner routine but the Blues managed to scramble the ball clear off the line. Lampard’s men were searching for a club record eighth consecutive away win in all competitions and that confidence played a big part in them keeping the faith.
They also owed a debt of gratitude to the Spanish duo of Kepa and Azpilicueta after 65 minutes as they combined to somehow keep the hosts at bay. The skipper threw himself bravely in front of Fernandinho’s close-range effort before Kepa reacted smartly to finger-tip Mahrez’s shot over.
Lampard introduced Michy Batshuayi and Mount to proceedings for the final 15 minutes but it was Willian who went closest to an equaliser. After the ball bounced up invitingly for the winger to hit, it was only the fingertips of Ederson that prevented his dipping effort from flying in.
The Blues had competed throughout and their defensive discipline ensured they remained in the game right until the end. That meant there was one last chance to snatch a point as Mount stepped over a central free-kick almost 30 yards from goal, though the England international’s sweet strike just went the wrong side of Ederson’s right post.
City thought they had made it 3-1 late in stoppage time when Raheem Sterling’s shot squirmed away from Kepa but the goal was ruled out after referee Martin Atkinson conferred with his linesman and VAR. The Blues still left Manchester empty-handed for the second time this season, although once again there were plenty of positives to take from the performance.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Zouma, Tomori, Emerson (James 59); Jorginho (Mount 74), Kante, Kovacic; Willian, Abraham (Batshuayi 74), Pulisic
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Pedro, Giroud
Scorer Kante 22
Booked Jorginho 62
Manchester City (4-3-3) Ederson; Cancelo, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodrigo (Gundogan 51), De Bruyne, David Silva (c) (Foden 67); Mahrez, Aguero (Jesus 76), Sterling
Unused subs Bravo, Walker, Angelino, Otamendi
Scorers De Bruyne 29; Mahrez 37; Sterling 90+3
Booked Gundogan 90+1
Referee Martin Atkinson
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