Manchester City produced one of their finest performances in the Pep Guardiola era against defending champions Chelsea in their Premier League tie at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, riding Kevin De Bruyne’s second-half winner to clinch a 1-0 win and reclaim top spot in the league table.
Considering their free-scoring form this season, such lavish praise may seem excessive but the fact that City went to Stamford Bridge and outplayed Antonio Conte’s men over the course of the 90 minutes tells the true story, not the scoreline.
Despite missing Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany in defence and top scorer Sergio Aguero in attack, City never once looked in trouble against the Blues, who started Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata for the first time in the Premier League this season.
Guardiola opted to start speed-demons Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling on the wing and with Gabriel Jesus leading the line, the Citizens harried the home side from the off.
Chelsea, despite a morale-boosting win at Atletico Madrid in mid-week never truly looked confident and their cause wasn’t helped when Morata requested to be substituted in the 34th minute.
The £60 million signing, who scored a hat-trick against Stoke last week, has been in excellent form this season and without him, the Blues’s attack looked a little blunt.
And while City had dominated possession, Chelsea’s three-man defence largely stood firm in the first-half save for a single chance from a corner late just before the interval.
Thibaut Courtois was alert to the danger and superbly kept out the ball as the Blues somehow clung on to their clean-sheet till half-time.
The interval team-talks seemed to bring no change to the game for City were once again dominant and they should have taken the lead early on when Sterling was unmarked inside the box but the fleet-footed winger sent his volley well over the bar.
Chelsea would then test city keeper Ederson for the first time as Hazard took a shot from an acute angle, despite having Gary Cahill available in a better position.
And Hazard would be left rueing his miss as his compatriot De Bruyne showcased his technical abilities by sending in a powerful shot from the edge of the box with his weaker foot in the 67th minute to give City the lead.
Antonio Conte threw on Pedro and Michy Batshuaiyi in hopes of finding an equaliser but it never came and arguably City were closer to scoring a second goal than Chelsea were to drawing level.
For Gabriel Jesus’ well-struck volley was superbly cleared off the line by Antonio Rudiger after a quick City break.
City would keep Chelsea at bay despite a concerted effort in the closing stages from the Blues and clinched an important three points which saw them go level with arch-rivals Manchester United at the top of the league table.
By virtue of their superior goal difference (+20 to United’s +19), City are now topping the league with 19 points from seven games and considering the teams they have beaten (Liverpool and Chelsea), will be confident of extending their stay at the summit.
The win was even sweeter for the Citizens, for Chelsea had done the double over them last season but Saturday’s result will mean the most to the match-winner Kevin De Bruyne.
The Belgian maestro had endured a frustrating spell with Chelsea a few seasons ago and was forced to move to Wolfsburg to seek regular playing time. After starring in the Bundesliga, De Bruyne came to City and has transformed into a world-class player under Pep Guardiola.
For the defending champions, they now wait anxiously over Morata’s injury, for with Tottenham Hotspurs’ 4-0 win over Huddersfield Town earlier on Saturday, the Blues are now fourth in the league table and will need their top scorer fit and firing if they are to climb back to the top.