Chelsea started the new year with a defeat at home as goals from Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden inflicted a first Stamford Bridge reverse on the Blues since the second week of the season.
The damage was done in 15 first-half minutes as Gundogan opened the scoring and De Bruyne quickly doubled the lead before teeing up Foden to leave Frank Lampard’s side trying to find some way to overturn a 3-0 deficit for the second time in three matches.
Despite going closer to scoring after the restart, opportunities were infrequent and failed to genuinely trouble Manchester City’s stand-in goalkeeper until added time when Callum Hudson-Odoi turned in a low cross to net a consolation. The result sees us drop two places to eighth in a congested top half of the Premier League table.
Cesar Azpilicueta made his 400th appearance for the Blues, becoming just the 13th player in our history to achieve the milestone, and only the second from overseas. No player has played more games for a Premier League since he signed in August 2012.
He kept his place at right-back, while there were five changes elsewhere from the draw with Aston Villa, including the return of Hakim Ziyech.
The Moroccan started in a tweaked attack, with Timo Werner through the middle and Christian Pulisic on the left. Mateo Kovacic replaced Jorginho in central midfield, while both Kurt Zouma and Thiago Silva came back in at centre-back.
Manchester City had been hit with several positive Covid-19 cases in the build-up and Ederson, Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus were their most notable absentees.
Frantic first knockings
Prior to kick-off, both sets of players were involved in a moment’s applause in memory of the late Tommy Docherty, who passed away earlier in the week at the age of 92. The Doc had been a revolutionary coach at Stamford Bridge, winning the League Cup in 1965 as well as the hearts of Chelsea fans of that era.
Rather fittingly, in keeping with Docherty’s swashbuckling style of play, our first game of the new year looked set to be an entertaining battle between two heavyweights and the opening exchanges were high in tempo and intensity as expected.
Amid that frantic start, City’s stand-in keeper was guilty of a misjudgement as he picked up a ball back to him from Rodrigo and conceded an indirect free-kick just inside the 18-yard box. It was well positioned for Ziyech’s left boot but needed a lay-off and that gave City’s wall the crucial time to close down our number 22’s strike.
Werner looked lively and went close with a header from the resulting corner but couldn’t quite flick it towards goal with enough power. Nevertheless, the German’s pace in attack alongside Pulisic and Ziyech offered a dangerous threat, with the latter pair starting a game together for the first time.
City settle and strike first
The visitors were operating without a recognised centre-forward but that rarely stunts the attacking endeavours of Pep Guardiola’s side, with De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva taking it in turns to float into that space and occupy the centre-backs.
The game’s first real opportunity fell to the Belgian after 16 minutes following a quick break forward but his accuracy was just off as he sent a low drive inches wide of the far post. There was no such reprieve for the Blues moments later though as an attack down the left saw Oleksandr Zinchenko and Foden shift the ball infield for Gundogan, who produced a neat turn into space and a powerful shot beyond Edouard Mendy’s dive.
De Bruyne then turned provider just three minutes later to double the lead, delivering low to the front post for Foden to finish first time on his favoured left foot.
De Bruyne makes it three
No team in the Premier League had conceded fewer goals than City this season, which simply illustrated the task ahead for Lampard’s side. Despite settling after the two quick goals conceded, it was difficult to fashion clear-cut chances and the game now favoured the visitors to cause problems on the counter-attack.
De Bruyne netted their third 10 minutes before the break in that fashion as a Chelsea free-kick swung in by Ziyech was quickly cleared into the path of Raheem Sterling running clean through at goal. N’Golo Kante did well to catch him but Sterling was composed and curled a strike against the post, with the rebound falling for De Bruyne. He took a touch and slotted the ball in for 3-0.
Gundogan went close with a close-range flick in the final minutes of the half before the Blues forced Zack Steffen into a routine save as Azpilicueta’s header looped up and into the American’s grateful arms.
There was more action for the home side in and around the City box after the restart. Mason Mount saw a tame effort saved before his midfield colleague Kovacic fired just wide after a jinking run between defenders, yet Steffen remained largely untroubled.
Down the other end, Mendy was more concerned with Rodrigo’s header at the back post following a deep free-kick delivered by De Bruyne and the Senegalese international needed to react smartly to push the midfielder’s effort over the bar. That set-piece had come from a Kante foul which resulted in a booking, which means he will miss our next league action at Fulham.
Lampard introduced Billy Gilmour and Hudson-Odoi just after the hour mark, the latter providing a brave directness down the right, with one dribble almost breaking for him in the box before City snaffled the danger to safety.
The England winger also delivered an inviting cross for Pulisic but the 22-year-old could not trouble his fellow Pennsylvanian with the header. Hudson-Odoi capped his positive impact with a stoppage-time consolation, turning in at the back post from fellow substitute Kai Havertz’s low cross.
A break from the Premier League and the return of FA Cup football. League Two side Morecambe are visitors to the Bridge next Sunday, kick-off 1.30pm. After that it’s a Friday night trip across west London to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham on 15 January.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Thiago Silva, Zouma, Chilwell; Mount, Kante (Gilmour 64), Kovacic (Havertz 77); Ziyech (Hudson-Odoi 64), Werner, PulisicUnused subs Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Emerson, Jorginho, Abraham, GiroudScorer Hudson-Odoi 90+2Booked Pulisic 45; Kante 53; Kovacic 71
Man City (4-3-3) Steffen; Cancelo, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; Rodrigo, Gundogan (Fernandinho 74), Silva; De Bruyne (Aguero 86) , Sterling, Foden (Mahrez 86)Unused subs Carson, Mendy, Mbete, Harwood-Bellis, DelapScorers Gundogan 18; De Bruyne 34; Foden 21Booked Silva 90
Referee Anthony Taylor