It was a sultry midsummer evening when it was hard to keep cool, but two men certainly were able to do just that.
Christian Pulisic proved to be the very essence of clinical when presented with his first-half chance to score, and just imagine what Stamford Bridge would have sounded like in normal circumstances when the American slotted that goal.Willian had the pressure of knowing his penalty could well be the winner that puts his side firmly in the driving seat when it comes to keeping the sides below us at bay in the race for the top four. He made no mistake, and had played a big part in the move that won the spot-kick as well.True it was big mistake by the Man City rearguard that gave Pulisic the ball for his goal but it was hardly a gift. The 21-year-old still had plenty to do to score his seventh of an injury-interrupted season, but starting his sprint inside his own half, there was no danger he was going to be caught given his pace with the ball at his feet. But could he keep his head when facing Ederson who had already made a couple of tremendous saves? You bet he could! The shot was early, low, curling and deadly.
Inside Stamford Bridge the players could at least see how some Chelsea fans celebrated, even if they could not hear them. A digital fan wall appeared on the big screens shortly after the goal was slotted, with a mosaic of Blues fans in their own living rooms letting rip at their team going 1-0 up.This was one of the ways in which there was a nod to the support that would usually be packing the place.While the sunshine and the temperature made it feel more like a World Cup match than a top-four Premier League encounter, the resemblance was to a World Cup group-stage dead rubber between two nations whose support had already flown home.The Liquidator with no hand claps at the start as the Chelsea team entered the pitch by the usual tunnel was an unusual sound, and an unusual sight was our opponents entering the field of play elsewhere, from what is usually the groundsman’s tunnel between the East and Matthew Harding Stands, having changed into their kit in the Chelsea Health Club just outside of the stadium itself.
Tonight there was none of the usual rush to make sure the giant Chelsea FC - Pride of London flag crowdsurfed across the Matthew Harding Lower in time for kick-off. Instead there was artwork in that banner’s honour which remained fixed in place. The same was true of the Frank Lampard’s Blue and White Army banner which today had a great view from the Matthew Harding Upper. They are the work of up-and-coming artist Bradley Crawford, who had taken an impressionist’s approach to depicting fans in other parts of the stands.
During the first half before Pulisic’s goal, a lot of the action involved Kepa, including a fine save from Fernandinho’s flick header, and a block by his legs from Mendy was greeted by our season ticket holders – albeit by their names which appeared on the pitchside LED boards at that moment rather than roars of appreciation from their throats.With De Bruyne’s free-kick which has to be admitted was quality, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling going close at either end, Pulisic doing everything right but somehow being denied his second goal by a goal-line clearance, and then the handball, red card, winning penalty action, the second half did not disappoint for incident.
This was Chelsea’s first ever home game behind closed doors and while no one wants there to be many more of them, it at least served up a big three points and a good match. Indeed was this the best Premier League game since project restart began?If so, it is a shame Chelsea fans were only here in spirit and not body. There was no ‘One Step Beyond’ at the end!