The defending champions Manchester City defeated injury-plagued Chelsea 1-0 on Thursday to close the gap on Arsenal, the leaders of the Premier League, to just five points.
After halftime, substitutes Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez combined for the only goal, which was scored by the Algerian in the 63rd minute, Pep Guardiola’s team improved significantly. Despite starting the game in 10th place in the table, Graham Potter’s Chelsea won the first 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge.
However, the visitors found their attacking rhythm in the second half, and Guardiola acknowledged that they were “miles better in every department” after the break.
The City manager stated to Sky Sports, “We struggled a lot in the first half — it was sloppy, slow, and without rhythm.” From the first minute, it was much, much better in the second half.
“The three points are definitely significant. It’s known by the players. However, we will try; we will play in the FA Cup and the Carabao (League) Cup before Old Trafford. But a win today is crucial for these games.”
Raheem Sterling, a forward for Chelsea, suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the opening minutes, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took his place. Chelsea was already without a number of senior players, including Mason Mount and Reece James.
City defender John Stones came to the rescue in the 16th minute when Christian Pulisic bore down on goal and produced a perfectly timed sliding tackle to deny the US forward. The home team was the first team to seriously threaten, but Stones saved the day.
The American was hurt during the challenge, so he had to leave minutes later, which made Chelsea’s problems worse.
Carney Chukwuemeka, a teenager who came on for Pulisic, almost made an impact right away, but his shot was stopped by Ederson, and Hakim Ziyech’s shot was saved by Ederson.
On what turned out to be a quiet evening for the Norwegian superstar, Erling Haaland, who has scored 21 goals in the Premier League this season—one more than the entire Chelsea team—missed the target with a shot in the 38th minute.
However, Chelsea continued to appear to be the more dangerous team, and just before halftime, Chukwuemeka hit the post to make it 2-2.
Double substitution Guardiola, dissatisfied with what he had seen, made a double substitution at halftime, substituting Rico Lewis and Manuel Akanji for Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker in an effort to gain more control.
Nathan Ake hit the woodwork for the visitors as soon as they settled in, but Chelsea responded well and was just inches away from taking the lead when Thiago Silva shot wide.
Grealish and Mahrez were introduced by Guardiola, whose team drew 1-1 with Everton over the weekend, to further freshen up his attack on the hour mark.
Minutes later, Grealish made a great pass from the left, and Mahrez poked the ball home from close range. The decision paid off.
Potter made his own substitutions, substituting England forward Conor Gallagher, but despite some late pressure, they were unable to score an equalizer.
The city is now five points behind Arsenal, who were held to a 0-0 draw earlier this week against high-flying Newcastle.
But Potter is feeling more and more pressure because Chelsea has only won one of their last eight league games and is still 10 points behind the top four.
Potter said he was pleased with his team’s performance, especially considering that Chelsea lost Sterling and Pulisic so early in the FA Cup third round at the Etihad on Sunday.
“We must work together. It was disappointing to lose those players, but the players on the field and those who replaced them gave everything, which is all that is required.