Premier League: Subs swing game for Manchester City
Manchester City trimmed the gap to Premier League leaders Arsenal to five points by beating Chelsea 1-0 after a double substitution by Pep Guardiola paid off immediately at Stamford Bridge.
Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish entered in the 60th minute and combined for the only goal three minutes later, with Mahrez tapping in from close range after a perfectly weighted cross by his fellow winger.
City only came to life in the second half after a curiously passive display before halftime, perhaps brought on by a confusing team selection by Guardiola that saw a number of players deployed in unusual roles. Known for his overthinking at times, Guardiola accepted after the game he got it wrong. That’s why he took off two full-backs — Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker — at half-time and restored Rodri to centre midfield, with the Spaniard having also been in a hybrid role covering central defence, too.
Suddenly, City were all over Chelsea and creating chances, even if top scorer Erling Haaland was largely kept quiet and Kevin De Bruyne shone only fleetingly. “In the second half, it was miles better in all departments,” said Guardiola, who reserved special praise for half-time sub, the 18-yearold Rico Lewis, because he “changed the game.”
The goal came after Guardiola’s second double change, though it might have been kept out had Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga stretched out to block Grealish’s low cross from the left rather than pull away his arm. “I felt the keeper was going to get it at one point,” Grealish said, “though maybe I should be praising my cross!” Grealish said adapting to the team’s style of play has been much more difficult than he imagined, almost 18 months after his league record $119.25 million transfer from Aston Villa.
“When I came here, I’ll be honest, it was so much more difficult than I thought,” Grealish told Sky Sports. City pulled four points clear of third-place Newcastle and closed in on Arsenal, who drew 0-0 at home to Magpies on Tuesday. “We don’t focus on the table ... there’s a long way to go,” City defender John Stones said.
“In previous years we have gone on long unbeaten runs and we need to do it again.” Chelsea stayed in 10th place, 19 points off the leaders. Graham Potter’s team is as close to the relegation zone as the top four. Chelsea lost forwards Raheem Sterling, who joined from City in the offseason, and Christian Pulisic to injuries in the first half. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came on for Sterling in the fifth minute and was substituted in the 68th.
Another of the substitutes, Carney Chukwuemeka, struck a shot against the post. “When you consider everything, losing Raheem and Christian so early, the lads gave everything,” Potter said. “It was a spirited performance against a top team, so apart from the result I’m proud of the players. “It’s tough at the moment, I must admit, and I feel for the boys. We have to stick together. It was disappointing to lose those guys but the players on the pitch and the ones that came in gave everything and that’s all you can ask for.” The teams meet again in the FA Cup on Sunday.