MAN CITY 1, CHELSEA 2
As hundreds of Manchester City fans gathered outside the Etihad to celebrate a win which would have crowned them Premier League champions for a third time in four seasons, they did not count Chelsea as being party-poopers.
Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea’s new manager, put one over on Pep Guardiola for the second time in three weeks.
Following City’s loss to Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Emirates FA Cup, came another win for the Pensioners in what was a dress rehearsal for their meeting in three weeks in the final of the Champions League.
It was absorbing contest in which Guardiola has now lost six of his 12 matches against Chelsea since taking charge in 2016. Five have been in the Premier League and no team has a better record against the City manager.
This was a win against the odds as City don’t lose at home when they take the lead and Chelsea have had a poor record winning games after falling behind.
Raheem Sterling gave City the lead late in the opening half when Sergio Aguero also missed a penalty which, had it been 2-0, would have all but sealed the title.
Chelsea came back magnificently in the second period with goals from Hakim Ziyech and Marcos Alonso to take another huge stride towards guaranteeing a top-four place and inflict only City’s fourth league loss of the season and third at the Etihad.
On another day it might have been a wider margin of victory as Chelsea also had three goals ruled out, all for offside.Embed from Getty Images
Guardiola said: “It was a tight game, but in general we played really good. We miss our chance in last minute of first half with the penalty.
“They are a top side, and we were playing better. We were in a good position but in the end they score.
“In 21 days, we are going to face them again in the Champions League final. We will learn from that and get the points we need to be champions.”
On the key moments, Aguero’s penalty miss and the late penalty not given, he said: “It’s his decision. The taker makes his decision. He decided to take it his way, I’ve nothing to add.
“It’s a penalty. That’s all. It’s happens, it’s football. We will try next time to score our penalty. That’s all I can say. I saw on the television it was a penalty.”
Sterling said: “It’s a difficult one to take. We had chances to finish game off and we got punished, simple as that.
“We wanted to get it done today, we couldn’t but we’ve got more chances to come.
“I thought we played pretty well. If the penalty goes in, then we get the game over and done with.”
Tuchel said: “What a performance in the second half. We were more or less equals in the first half, in the last five minutes we almost gave it away completely. If they scored the penalty, it was over before it started and we would have no chance to come back.
“But absolutely impressed by the reaction and performance in the second half, we deserved to win the second half.
“If you want to steal all three points at the Etihad you need a bit of luck, moments and decisions from the referee. But we had many half chances in the second half and so a big congratulations to the team for their performance.”
Guardiola continued to cause fantasy football managers to tear their hair out in frustration, making nine changes from the side that beat PSG to reach the final of the Champions League on Tuesday.
The only survivors from the side were goalkeeper Edersen and defender Ruben Dias.
In came defenders Aymeric Laporte, Nathan Ake, and Joao Cancelo.
Rodrigo started in front of them, with left back Benjamin Mendy playing left midfield while Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Aguero were the attacking threat with Kevin De Bruyne not even making the bench.
Just the five changes for Chelsea from the side that beat Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Billy Gilmour came into midfield, full-backs Reece James and Marcos Alonso started and forwards Ziyech and Christian Pulisic were recalled.
The players dropping out were Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Jorginho, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz.
After a largely uneventful opening half hour, a cagey affair in which each side cancelled out the other, the match exploded to life in the final 15 minutes.
Timo Werner had a goal ruled out for a clear offside quickly followed by another effort which he bent well wide from a good position.
The first time either goalkeeper was called into action came in the 35th minute when Sterling forced a relatively straightforward diving save from Edouard Mendy.
That was followed by Ederson flinging himself to his right to push out a shot from Ziyech.
The breakthrough came in the 44th minute after a mistake from Andreas Christensen who was beaten by the bounce allowing Jesus to break on the right.
He squared a pass to Aguero who looked as though he could not miss but failed to control the ball. However, Sterling was backing up behind him and he rifled home a low shot, his 14th goal of the season and first for almost three months after a barren run in front of goal.
Christensen was forced off after falling awkwardly and, while 10-man Chelsea were trying to make a substitution, they conceded a penalty in stoppage time following Gilmour’s clumsy challenge frlom behind on Jesus.
Aguero, needing one more goal to equal Wayne Rooney’s record of 183 Premier League goals for one club, tried a cheeky Panenka chip down the middle only for Mendy to stand his ground for the easiest of catches to the embarrassment of the Argentine striker.
City are the first side to miss four penalties in consecutive Premier League campaigns for the first time since Spurs in 1993-94 and 1994-95.
It would have been a long way back for Chelsea had they ended the opening period 2-0 down.
Christian Pulisic had a chance to equalise on the hour but blazed over.
The leveller came in the 63rd minute when Ziyech scored his sixth goal of the season.
Rodri lost possession in midfield – City claimed a foul – as Chelsea made a quick break down the right ending with the Moroccan finding the net with a low drive from the edge of the penalty area.
Guardiola’s response was to make a double change as Torres and the hapless Aguero – it was not his afternoon – were replaced by Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan.
Werner had a second goal of the afternoon ruled out for a clear offside which only needed the briefest of VAR checks.
City made a third change as Mendy made way for Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Chelsea had a third goal chalked out for offside, this time substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi was caught by the narrowest of margins as his knee was off when he converted a cross from Reece James.
There was an explosive and eventful finish.
City were furious not to be awarded an 88th minute penalty when Sterling went down after looking to be caught by Zouma.
Sterling’s post-match view was: “I couldn’t get a shot off because he put his knee on the back of my hamstring. I don’t know how it’s not a penalty or reviewed properly.
“I thought VAR was here to help. but it wasn’t meant to be. The referee said it had been checked and it wasn’t a penalty, but it was a sure penalty.”
Alonso had a chance to win the game for Chelsea moments later but his chip flew narrowly wide.
But in stoppage time Alonso struck the decisive blow which delayed City’s coronation.
Hudson-Odoi released Werner whose low cross was converted by the Spaniard whose effort looped over goalkeeper Ederson, his third goal of the season.