Gabriel Jesus scored the only goal of the game
Pep Guardiola makes it work without a marquee striker, as Thomas Tuchel fails by failing to play to his attack.
The Manchester City manager claimed his first victory in England over the German, and shifted the tone of this burgeoning title race, with a 1-0 win over Chelsea thanks to a fortuitous – but deserved – Gabriel Jesus goal.
The travelling support were finally able to roar about being “champeones” in response to Chelsea’s earlier chants of “European champions, you’ll never sing that”. They were instead finally celebrating a win over Tuchel’s side.
On that, Chelsea’s image of impregnability vanished, although it was difficult not to think that the German played into it.
Amid a growing and occasionally misplaced debate over whether Chelsea are defensive, this was an undeniably cautious approach that sought to deny City space but only ended up sapping any initiative from Chelsea.
The absence of Mason Mount and a mid-game injury to Reece James didn’t help, but Guardiola shouldn’t be denied credit, either.
After so much talk of whether he should have signed a striker and last week’s 0-0, he made a fluid attacking formation work, with Jesus rotating position to eventually find himself ideally placed to score.
It was more than deserved, as the home crowd were left with a feeling of whether more could be done – and certainly more attacking.
This isn’t to overly criticise Tuchel, as these games between these two super-stacked squads and super-obsessive managers are always going to come down to tiny details and telling moments, but it was undeniably one where Guardiola claimed tactical victory as well as a win in the match. City often played some beautiful football. One obvious question is whether Guardiola should have set up like this in the Champions League Final, but it was a different game with a different context, and one always informs the next. That actually may have worked against Chelsea this time, having won three successive matches against City.
Tuchel’s approach was again solidly structured, but much more cautious than usual, and constantly ran the risk of allowing City an awful lot of possession very close to his goal. There was a conspicuous moment in the first half when the German manically urged his midfield much higher up the pitch. There wasn’t enough of a link between the defensive set-up and the attack. This was where the injured Mount was most badly missed – there was too big a gap. The injury to James further sapped any impetus. There was also the fact City pressed so well; they didn’t let Chelsea out.
Typically, Tuchel’s side didn’t actually cough up all that much. They are so good at closing down space. But that had an unintended consequence for the Jesus goal.
Gabriel Jesus scored the only goal of the game
Chelsea had their box far too congested and the area around it too open. With so many bodies, there was always the danger that one shot would take a deflection, or there would be an unlucky bounce.
That was precisely what happened. The ball was worked to Gabriel Jesus just inside the area. He turned and shot, the ball taking a big diversion to fly past Mendy.
There was some luck, sure, but it was also a clear case of City making their own luck.
They had been trying to make all the chances, to play the football. There was a fascination in seeing how such a creative attack could open such a solid defensive structure. Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva had been trying to thread passes, Jack Grealish to work openings.
Both managers were getting anxious on the line for different reasons. It was absorbing but it still wasn’t why most came to watch. It wasn’t the full potential of a game with players like this.
We finally got a vision of that after the goal. A football match, rather than a chess match, broke out.
Chelsea had no option but to go for it, so they started to create opportunities. Timo Werner, on the shoulder of City’s defence all day, was finally put through. A big chance was created for Romelu Lukaku, but he had strayed offside.
Everything had been loosened up, though. That, ironically, did at least partly indicate why Tuchel had set up the way he did.
City twice got in for one-on-ones: one for Phil Foden, one for Grealish. Mendy did exceptionally for both of them, although the Foden opportunity was signalled offside.
Either way, City had done more than enough. Guardiola got it right on the day.
Chelsea could have done so much more. It points to the fact any eventual title winner is going to have to do an awful lot to dethrone City and beat this field.
That was maybe the biggest consequence of an absorbing contest that still wasn’t what it could have been. That, for once, is on Tuchel.
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