The Premier League was won at Stamford Bridge last season and it moved a significant step closer to being won there again last night with this result.
Chelsea delivered the title to Leicester City by drawing with Tottenham Hotspur last May but are closing in on retaking it for themselves following a defining victory over Manchester City as they completed an impressive league double over Pep Guardiola’s side.
It felt like it would be an even more emphatic evening with Spurs losing, until late on, away to Swansea City before their extraordinary turnaround. They will not go away and the title race is certainly not over, not yet – the gap remains at seven points with eight matches to play – but City’s involvement in it is.
For City it was yet another disappointing result, yet another performance where they were victims of their own downfall – complicit in both of Eden Hazard’s goals – and for all their fine attacking football they still have a lot of work to do to remain in the top four.
A pattern was set, early – City possession and Chelsea pouncing. It quickly came to fruition for the home side when they surged into the lead, over-turning the ball through Eden Hazard, spreading it wide with Cesar Azpilicueta – pushed forward as a wing-back in the absence of the injured Victor Moses – cutting it back for Hazard who struck a first-time shot that brushed against Vincent Kompany. It was a blur.
Goalkeeper Willy Caballero was wrong-footed but, still, the ball was not taken far enough away for him not to save and his effort was weak as he was beaten. Chelsea were ahead.
Should Kompany have got more on it (he seemed to mis-time a header)? Caballero certainly should and, yet again, a City familiar weakness that has to be remedied this summer was brutally exposed.
Kompany was a surprise inclusion, making his first start in the league since November, as was Fabian Delph in midfield, making his first league start of the season in fact, as Guardiola rung the changes and attempted – maybe – to provide a bit more power to his team.
Instead both Kompany and Delph appeared off-the-pace, initially at least, for such a significant match but City attempted to hit back as Thibaut Courtois dealt with Fernandinho’s crisp shot from the area’s edge and David Luiz reacting to thwart Sergio Aguero who then worked his way through to shoot low only for his effort to be easily saved by Courtois. Aguero punched the turf in frustration.
There was obviously a scent of more goals and so back came Chelsea with Hazard breaking down the left to pick out Cesc Fabregas whose shot deflected of Gael Clichy, gently looping over Caballero and landing on the roof of the net. That was close.
Incredibly City – given their own defensive woes – were gifted an equaliser with Courtois chipping the ball straight to David Silva who ran into the area, shot, with the goalkeeper parrying and Aguero pouncing ahead of N’Golo Kante to side-foot home. Two of the best attacking teams had scored through two goalkeeping howlers.
City suddenly felt re-energised and broke again with Silva slipping the ball through to Leroy Sane who attempted to lift it over the onrushing Courtois – who blocked with his leg. But then, at the other end, another error, a rash challenge by Fernandinho, clumsily bringing down Pedro as he cut across him inside the area led to another goal. The penalty was rightly awarded and Hazard took it only for Caballero to save, superbly, down to his left. However the rebound returned to Hazard who side-footed into the net.
City had it all to do again and Courtois was almost caught out by a whipped cross by De Bruyne only for the goalkeeper to adjust and punch it over the cross-bar.
With Kurt Zouma replaced at half-time Chelsea moved Pedro back to wing-back. It then became a case of whether Chelsea could get the ball to Hazard, up against Jesus Navas, or City could find Sane. The vulnerabilities were evident.
And it was the visitors who continued to dominate possession with Kompany reaching a free-kick, heading back into the six-yard area and Azpilicueta reacting to clear before it could be turned home.
Soon after and Delph hooked the ball back into the area with it being met by Fernandinho who elected to volley, when it could have taken it down, and ballooned over. The flag stayed down even though the midfielder was in an offside position. It was a bad miss by player (and assistant referee).
Chelsea dropped ever deeper. Guardiola became ever more animated – especially when Silva was caught in the face by Kante with De Bruyne’s clever low free-kick finding Sane who stumbled as he appeared set to go clear on goal. From a corner John Stones planted his header straight at Courtois. He should, also, have done better.
In a rare Chelsea breakaway, Hazard then went close to completing his hat-trick. He side-footed over. Could City capitalise?
In injury-time substitute Nolito chipped a superb cross that was met by Aguero only for Courtois to block. From the corner the ball ran through to Stones. The goal beckoned – but he volleyed over.
City have been close this season but not close enough. Chelsea, meanwhile, move ever closer to the title.
Source: Jason Burt