Manchester City had the opportunity to regain their Premier League crown this evening when entertaining Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium but fell to a 1-2 defeat.
In a dress rehearsal of this season’s Champions League final Pep Guardiola’s men knew if they picked up all three points today it meant securing a third championship in four seasons further cementing their status as English football’s number one team.
A closely fought contest, which at one stage looked destined to end goalless, was decided in the final moments when Marcos Alonso gave the visitors all three points. Raheem Sterling on the stroke of half-time popped up to break the deadlock but that was soon cancelled out by Hakim Ziyech though it could all have been different if soon-to-depart club legend Sergio Aguero didn’t fluff his lines from the spot moments after his side went in front.
As the dust settles, here are five things we learned from this pulsating encounter.
1. Keeping us guessing
Given the proximity of this game and their respective Champions League semi-final second-leg games it was understandable to see two very different lineups. Guardiola, the master of rotation, made no fewer than nine changes from City’s meeting against Paris Saint-Germain whilst his opposite number Thomas Tuchel was conservative by comparison making five alterations. “It was a huge effort, not only physically but mentally. We had one day less to recover, we had travel to do,” the German tactician said in his pre-match interview on Sky Sports. “You could see in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley what one day can do, we did not have to travel, they had after Dortmund, so we needed to make some changes. Also to prove we have trust in our whole squad, which is what we have. Game is on.”
A number of those you’d expect to feature in Uefa’s showpiece event were given the day off including Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Mason Mount whilst Kai Havertz, Jorginho and Phil Foden starting on the bench. So to call this a ‘dress rehearsal’ might have been inaccurate, felt more like a phony war, but there were enough stars on the field to justify the billing. Once the match did get underway all eyes switched to City’s shape with Guardiola seemingly fielding a 5-1-4 formation though at times morphed into the more commonly seen 3-1-4-2 with Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero deployed as a two-man forward tandem. Chelsea by contrast retained their 3-4-3 system which has served them incredibly well under the new Tuchel administration.
2. Goal thief
For only the fifth Premier League game of this season Raheem Sterling led City out into battle. In what has often been a frustrating campaign, the 61-time England international found himself on the bench against PSG earlier in the week, so with competition for a place out wide in Guardiola’s final lineup heating up the Londoner needed to rise to the occasion again. One thing no one could accuse Sterling of was not taking the game to Chelsea and that hustle was rewarded a minute before half-time when he swooped in to convert after Aguero’s uncharacteristic heavy touch saw him lose the chance to score in front of an unguarded net.
“I feel a bit sorry for Christensen, he looks to have done his hamstring. Jesus does well but the touch from Aguero… it’s awful. Sterling comes in like a thief in the night and scores!” was former City defender now turned Sky Sports pundit Micah Richards’ assessment during the break. It was a significant effort for Sterling as it ended a five-game scoring drought as well as bringing up 10 league goals for the season. He’s now reached double figures in each of his last four Premier League campaigns — a feat matched by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Harry Kane, Alexandre Lacazette, Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min, Jamie Vardy and Chris Wood — with only the aforementioned Aguero doing so on more occasions (9) for the Mancunians.
Oh no, Sergio 😂
Aguero's Panenka penalty does not go to plan…
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 8, 2021
A minute or so after going in front the hosts had the chance to double their lead and subsequently put this meeting beyond the Blues when youngster Billy Gilmour in a crowded penalty crashed into the back of Jesus leading to a City penalty. Up stepped Aguero who in the past enjoyed scoring plenty of times against the capital side but not on this occasion.
The wily Argentine marksman overthought when trying to outsmart Edouard Mendy by attempting a Panenka only to get egg on his face when the Chelsea ‘keeper did not commit to a dive instead standing up straight and catching the ball casually. “It’s not been a great five minutes for Aguero. The Panenka? More like the Pa-Stinker! He looked like a naughty boy looking at a teacher when he looked over at Guardiola. I don’t know what he was thinking with the penalty,” Jamie Redknapp said on Sky Sports at half-time.
It was the fourth penalty City have failed to score in the Premier League this season which is the most by any side. Aguero joins De Bruyne, Gundogan and Sterling in failing to convert from 12 yards. This unwanted statistic makes Guardiola’s outfit the first side to miss four or more spot-kicks in consecutive seasons since Tottenham (1993/94-1994/95).
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4. A timely reminder
A year ago Hakim Ziyech was preparing for his big move to Chelsea after completing his switch from Ajax several months earlier. His departure was inevitable but the destination raised a few eyebrows but one can argue it’s been somewhat of a success given they are in two major finals. However, being a first-team regular hasn’t transpired, but that’s only down to who is at Tuchel’s disposal, the plethora of attacking options is mighty high that being said he’s not let his head drop.
Whenever called upon the Morrocan international has put in a shift. Though we’ve not seen his mesmerising Ajax best there’s been glimpses including this evening when equalising following a sustained period of Chelsea pressure. It was a weight off Ziyech’s shoulder, this being his first Premier League goal in 18 games. No stranger to netting past City, see recent FA Cup semi-final win, if he does not start the Champions League final expect him to feature nonetheless.
5. Home discomfort
You would think City’s home is a fortress but not on recent showings. This setback was a third Etihad defeat in four Premier League matches. Man Utd, Leeds and now Chelsea have now all left with all three points in their back pocket. This success was a long time coming; across their previous three visits the Blues suffered a defeat on each occasion with the aggregate score being 9-1 in City’s favour.
Alonso’s late winner, giving Chelsea all the spoils and their first away win here since a 3-1 success under Antonio Conte in December 2016, also ended City’s recent unbeaten home streak against teams from the British capital. Heading into today’s showdown it read 14 consecutive games without losing (12 wins and two draws) since that memorable 2-3 loss against Crystal Palace in December 2018.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Guardiola and company. They’ll be named champions; it’s a matter of when. Nearest challengers Man Utd play three games in the space of four days before City’s next league outing. United’s next slip up — whether against Aston Villa (away), Leicester City (home) or Liverpool (home) — will hand their noisy neighbours a fifth Premier League title.