For the second week running, Chelsea fell behind to a top-five rival and looked second best for much of the first half, only to seize three massive points in the Premier League.
Last week it overcame Spurs to win 2-1; this time it took down an even larger foe in beating Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad. Antonio Conte’s side is now three points clear of the pack–with a favorable schedule in the offing–and is showing a resilience that was in short supply last season.
Its goals Saturday were pure Conte; a clinical counterattack and three long balls that evaded City’s porous back line and left Claudio Bravo exposed. Defense was never going to be an easy problem for Pep Guardiola to solve and so it has proved; Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov had a wretched afternoon against Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, whose power and pace contributed to the first and third goals.
City is now four points behind Chelsea and in fourth place, but there is no need for panic just yet–even though Sergio Aguero is banned for the next four matches after a deserved red card for a dangerous foul on David Luiz that incited a full-on fracas. Fernandinho was also shown a red card as the match became ill-tempered at the end.
Guardiola declared himself happy with how his team played, and pointed to a gilt-edged chance that Kevin De Bruyne hit over the bar from four yards out when City was a goal up. That would have made it 2-0.
And to a certain extent, he is right. Like Guardiola’s former side, Barcelona, in its rivalry bout vs. Real Madrid, had City been more clinical up front, then it might have been a different result. What is not different is that opponents are not afraid of City’s defense, which has kept one clean sheet in its last 15 games, and only once kept a clean sheet at home in the league. It seems like a long time since City won its first 10 games under Guardiola.
But with a transfer window on the horizon and more time for Guardiola to tinker with his combinations, don’t write City out of this title race just yet.