Manchester City missed their injured defender and their former winger caused them all manner of issues including a late, late penalty to level a thrilling game. But, at the end of 107 pulsating minutes of football it was Pep Guardiola and his players that were celebrating a 4-4 draw that sees them top of the Premier League for another fortnight at the very least.
Guardiola expects Chelsea to challenge for the league “sooner rather than later” and the hosts troubled City probably more than any other team have this season. City are in no way used to conceding four goals, although it says a lot about their mentality and quality that it still wasn&apost enough to see them defeated.
Chelsea were the first team to play City after the Premier League title was clinched last season and the match at the Etihad was a non-event. As befitting the respective campaigns, the visitors were abject against a second-string City side and a 1-0 win bore little resemblance to the supremacy enjoyed by the Blues.
Mauricio Pochettino has either endured or enjoyed a mixed start depending on how you want to look at it, but the difference from May to now against City was striking. With two ex-City wingers in Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling pulling the strings, they showed a hunger and quality from the start that had been absent last season.
It seemed to take City by surprise, although Guardiola&aposs side were no doubt hindered by the absence of Stones – as well as Nathan Ake, one of the players who could have taken his place before also suffering an injury this week. Kyle Walker&aposs pace proved invaluable as early as the opening minutes, yet City were more ragged than usual and Josko Gvardiol haring out of defence only to miss a challenge and watch the ball fly past him was an early warning sign.
City, of course, have plenty of quality of their own and don&apost need much help to find the scoresheet. They earned a soft penalty for the second successive away game as Marc Cucurella became the latest player to be reminded that if you pull an opponent in the box you can have no complaints when a foul is given against you; Haaland picked himself up from being felled by the diminutive full-back and stroked home the opening goal.
Pochettino was not happy with the decision and the Chelsea fans were livid, using language to describe referee Anthony Taylor that would be more appropriate in the Covid inquiry. But they needed only three minutes for Reece James to draw a superb save from Ederson from a free-kick, and having thanked their goalkeeper the Brazilian&aposs teammates then forgot to defend the corner properly as Thiago Silva headed home.
Worse was to follow shortly after, with Gvardiol not only failing to cut out a through ball for James but managing to touch it squarely into his path as well as playing Sterling onside for James to create an easy goal. To complete a bad half for defending, Manu Akanji was left completely unmarked as Bernardo Silva swung in a cross after a short corner to equalise before the end of the first half.
Everyone needed a breather at half-time to take in an entertaining yet chaotic game of football that won&apost have done much for Guardiola&aposs back as he continues his recovery from surgery, and there were still plenty returning to their seats when City retook the lead after the break. A magnificent move that saw Gvardiol play out from the corner flag to Haaland before Foden and Alvarez combined to give the No.9 a tap-in for his second of the game showed how dangerous the Blues can be when teams go toe to toe with them.
Thankfully for the neutrals, there was plenty more action to come. Ederson showed his continued improvement by preventing Palmer from a superb solo run and Jeremy Doku managed to miss a good chance and be booked for diving trying to win a penalty in the time it took City to get Jack Grealish on the pitch for him.
Grealish coming on seemed to add to City&aposs advantage, with the winger combining fluently with the outstanding Bernardo Silva on the left to torment the Chelsea defence. City&aposs backline was no better though, reacting slower than Nicolas Jackson when Ederson palmed out Conor Gallagher&aposs long-ranger to concede three goals for the first time in 50 games and 13 months.
City could have won, they could have lost, they could have drawn; the unfortunate flying boot of Thiago Silva turning Rodri&aposs shot into the net late on made it 4-3, and then Palmer made it 4-4 even later. Guardiola and his players will be delighted to sit top of the table for the next two weeks after all that to keep them clear of Arsenal and Liverpool. Having ended the October games with defeat at Arsenal, this was a better performance and a better outcome even if they will need to be much better defensively going forward.
And that neatly makes Guardiola&aposs point about not being upset at losing top talent to top teams. If you are bothered about selling to Chelsea or the like, he said on Friday, “I think that means you are a small team”.