Man. City 1-0 Chelsea: Guardiola gets his pound of flesh against Conte

Antonio Conte after the match
Antonio Conte

The only manager that had beaten Pep Guardiola twice in a league season was Antonio Conte and with the win on Sunday, Guardiola got his own back on the Italian manager. A goal 35 seconds into the second half from Bernardo Silva gave the Citizens their 24th league victory and they can still get to the 105 points mark at the end of the season.

First Half

N’Golo Kante took ill so Antonio Conte had to start Cesc Fabregas and Danny Drinkwater while Fernandinho had not recovered from an injury picked up in the Carabao Cup final win over Arsenal last Sunday.

Pep Guardiola started Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left side of defence with Kyle Walker fit after injury doubt but with Eden Hazard playing the false nine role, Manchester City had all the possession in the first half.

There were alarm bells as early as the third minute as Kevin De Bruyne found space in front of the box, but his pass to Sergio Aguero took a deflection and Azpilicueta cleared for a corner kick.

City had 78 per cent of ball possession and on the 11th minute, City goalkeeper was on the halfway line as City probed with De Bruyne and David Silva. They could not break through the defensive lattice that was woven by the Cesar Azpilicuta-led back line. Victor Moses stayed tight to Leroy Sane, but the German still proved the most dangerous player on the park.

The first flashpoint happened on 23 minutes as Zinchenko went through Moses and got a yellow card. In another match, it could have been red. Azpilicueta cleared a Sane shot on the line on 26 minutes as City continued to press for the opener.

There was more Sane magic in the 32nd minute as the German waltzed from the left flank, leaving four Chelsea players in his wake, but his lay off to Bernardo Silva was blazed wide. Chelsea constructed their first foray into the City half with 42 minutes on the clock and it was due to Pedro’s direct running.

It must have appeared a miracle for the Chelsea fans that they did not concede and Conte’s strategy to play Eden Hazard in the striker’s position ensured that the most gifted Chelsea player was starved of the ball – he had just 12 touches in the first half with the players seemingly afraid to demand the ball and unable to complete simple passes.

According to Opta stats, Sunday’s match was the first in which Chelsea have failed to register a single shot in the first half of a Premier League match since 2003-04.

Second Half

Conte must have told his players to continue in the same first half fashion, but City ensured that was not the case as Bernardo Silva registered the first goal after just 35 seconds after the restart.

Bernardo Silva got on the end of a David Silva cross after Christensen had made a hash of a clearance. Ilkay Guandogan was then booked for a foul on Hazard and you can imagine the Belgian thinking of staying down to be substituted from the drudgery he has been subjected to.

On 53 minutes, Fabregas fed Moses in the box but he sliced his shot horribly though it was Chelsea’s first attempt on goal in the match. Thibaut Courtois had to make a save off his right-hand post from a rasping effort by David Silva in the 55th minute.

Anthony Rudiga was shown a yellow card for persistent fouling in the 57th minute as he body-checked Bernardo Silva to the ground. There was a breakaway chance for Chelsea after Walker made a defensive hash of a header but Pedro’s pass – not for the first time was abysmal.

Another breakaway through Pedro on 70 minutes came to the same conclusion, as the Spaniard could not find Hazard with his errant pass. The look from Hazard after the mistake told so many stories.

The game then ebbed and flowed as Chelsea pushed more players into offensive positions trying to get the equaliser but the defending champions were made to look like bystanders as City toyed with the Blues.

Olivier Giroud came on for Willian in the 78th minute when it looked for all intents and purposes that Pedro should be the one taken off. Another breakaway and another errant pass from Pedro.

Emerson came on for Pedro as the rain lashed down at the Etihad as Gabriel Jesus came on for Aguero with six minutes left on the clock. Alonso had a try on the City post but he shot wide as City concluded a very good week.

If City continue in this fashion, they could become the first team to get more than 100 points. Also, it was Chelsea’s fourth defeat in five EPL matches and eight in total, five points behind Tottenham, who occupy the last Champions League slot.

It must have been embarrassing for Roman Abramovich and all the other Chelsea power holders that their team was so defensive away to Manchester City on Sunday. Craig Bellamy, in the studio, said this Chelsea performance was the most negative he had ever seen.

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