One goal was enough to settle a tight encounter between the reigning world and English champions at Stamford Bridge.
The decisive moment came midway through the second half when Manchester City substitutes Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez combined to break the deadlock, with the latter turning in from close range.
Chelsea had earlier been hampered by injuries to Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic, ending the game with three teenagers on the pitch and plenty of credit afforded by the Stamford Bridge faithful for the application and effort in pushing the Premier League champions right to the death.
Our best opportunity had come before the break with the score still 0-0 when Carney Chukwuemeka, one of our early substitutes, struck the post from just outside the box.
Potter made two changes from our New Year’s Day draw at Nottingham Forest, with FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech both returning to start for the first time since that tournament’s conclusion.
Jorginho and Mason Mount were the duo dropping out, the latter missing out on the matchday squad altogether through injury.
Pep Guardiola made three alterations from City’s last outing, a 1-1 draw at home to Everton, with Phil Foden, Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker back in the starting 11.
The Blues lined up with Sterling and Kai Havertz most advanced but Potter’s plans had to be redrawn after just five minutes when the England international limped off following a kick from Three Lions team-mate John Stones. He was replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a like-for-like swap up top.
While City dominated the possession in their usual manner, the early opportunities fell to the hosts. Marc Cucurella initiated a promising attack down the left just after the 15-minute mark as he stole the ball from Joao Cancelo and then found Havertz, who in turn teed up Pulisic.
However, with the American winding up to shoot, Stones arrived on the scene and turned the ball behind with a well-timed sliding challenge.
Chelsea’s injury issues, already troublesome with the likes of Reece James, Ben Chilwell and N’Golo Kante sidelined, continued to worsen before the midway point of the first half with the withdrawal of Pulisic with what looked like a muscle strain. It was the earliest double change of two starters in the Premier League for seven years and only added to the difficult task for the Londoners.
Teenager Chukwuemeka was the latest deployed into early action for his fifth appearance in blue. Yet those setbacks seemed to be galvanising the world champions and the home support also grew louder, encouraged by their team’s efforts.
Chukwuemeka had an instant impact, taking aim from the edge of the box but seeing the attempt blocked, before Ziyech forced Ederson into a low save on the follow-up. That remained the first half’s only shot on target until the dying stages.
Edging the contest
Guardiola has often found Chelsea to be stubborn opposition, with no side having beaten his City on more occasions in the Premier League than our five since the start of 2016/17.
Erling Haaland was marshalled well by Thiago Silva and Kalidou Koulibaly, the Norwegian’s most important intervention coming in his own 18-yard box as he back-pedalled to head clear a dangerous inswinging free-kick from Ziyech.
Kepa Arrizabalaga’s only work came with the odd gather here and there, although the Spaniard was a little more concerned when Bernardo Silva and Haaland combined seven minutes before the break, with City’s number nine firing just over with the outside of his left boot.
Post and out
The closest Chelsea came to an opener was in the 43rd minute when a quick break forward saw Chukwuemeka skip inside from the left and fire a shot beyond Ederson but against the foot of the post.
City were grateful for the rebound falling straight to Stones in the six-yard box and the danger was soon cleared, initiating a counter-attack for the visitors that ended with De Bruyne warming the gloves of Kepa down the other end.
Guardiola’s decision to start with three at the back, utilising Cancelo and Foden as wing-backs, was not providing City with their usual dominance in midfield and there was a double change at the break as defenders Rico Lewis and Manuel Akanji were introduced.
It provided the visitors with a necessary uplift and Nathan Ake, who spent six years as a Chelsea player, almost broke the deadlock against his former club six minutes after the restart.
Rising highest at the back post to meet a deep delivery, the Netherlands international headed against the upright in a major let-off for the Blues.
Kepa then denied De Bruyne shortly afterwards with a smart save down low to his left before Thiago Silva went close down the other end, smashing inches wide following a corner recycled back into the box by Chukwuemeka.
The contest was a more open affair in the second half but it was Guardiola’s second set of substitutions that proved key in unlocking the door. Grealish and Mahrez had only been on the field four minutes when they combined to devastating effect, the former firing a low ball across the face of goal and the Algerian getting ahead of Cucurella to turn the ball in from close range.
Potter responded swiftly with a raft of his own changes, handing 19-year-old Omari Hutchinson his Chelsea debut, as well as sending on fellow teenager Lewis Hall and Conor Gallagher.
That reenergised the home supporters and Hutchinson’s early touches were greeted with cries of encouragement, though it was Haaland who nearly settled the game when he stretched just inches short of reaching De Bruyne’s wicked right-sided centre.
While Chelsea pushed and probed for an equaliser in the final quarter of the contest, City’s resistance held strong in the west London drizzle. Kovacic’s long-ranger was the most promising opening we conjured but the ball sailed comfortably over Ederson’s crossbar.
As the clock ticked into stoppage time, Havertz found one last burst of energy down the inside-left channel but chose to ignore supporting options in the centre and fired wide of the near post.
For the second time in four days, Chelsea will take on City this Sunday 8 January. This time the game is at the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup third round, kick-off 4.30pm.
After that, there’s more Thursday night action when we take on Fulham at Craven Cottage in a week’s time.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Koulibaly, Thiago Silva, Cucurella (Hall 68); Kovacic, Zakaria; Ziyech (Gallagher 68), Pulisic, Sterling (Aubameyang 5) (Hutchinson 68)
Unused subs Bettinelli, Chalobah, Humphreys, Jorginho
Booked Kovacic 89; Koulibaly 90+4
Manchester City (3-) Ederson; Walker (Lewis h/t), Stones, Ake; Cancelo (Akanji h/t), Rodri (Phillips 86), Gundogan (c), Foden (Mahrez 60); De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva (Grealish 60), Haaland
Unused subs Ortega, Gomez, Grealish, Mahrez, Palmer, Alvarez
Scorer Mahrez 64
Referee Paul Tierney