Relentless Man City make it 12 Premier League wins in a row as Kevin De Bruyne's sublime effort is enough to see off Chelsea and put Pep Guardiola's side 13 points clear at the top

Daily Mail
Daily Mail

In the away section behind one of the goals at The Etihad, silverware glinted now and again in the winter sunshine. The Chelsea fans, ranged across three tiers, resolutely held up replicas of the Champions League trophy many had brought with them from London and brandished them as a reminder of their victory over Manchester City in the final in Porto last May.

‘Where’s your European Cup?’ they sang over and over again and they took their consolation there. Because history is all they have got at the moment. After this defeat to Pep Guardiola’s side, it is clearer than it ever was that the present belongs to City.

There was a time not long ago when this season was being imagined as a three-horse race between City, Chelsea and Liverpool that would go right down to the wire but those predictions withered and died as the nights drew in and City’s class began to tell. Now, the English marathon has a runaway leader.
Kevin De Bruyne curled home the decisive goal with 20 minutes to go as Manchester City moved 13 points clear at the summit
De Bruyne drove at the heart of the Chelsea defence, then dug out a curling effort from 25 yards to settle the contest
It proved sufficient to carry Manchester City 13 points clear of Chelsea at the top though Liverpool have games in hand
City manager Pep Guardiola gives the thumbs up during a performance of class and control at the Etihad Stadium 

Their 1-0 victory took them 13 points clear of Chelsea and the rest of the increasingly forlorn chasing pack and within sight of retaining their title. This had felt like the last chance to halt City’s march towards winning the league and Chelsea, who frustrated their manager, Thomas Tuchel, by creating opportunities but failing to take them, could not lay a glove on them.

Kevin de Bruyne scored the winner 20 minutes from the end and it was a fine goal fit to grace a fine performance. City were the better side by a distance. If Jose Mourinho had still been in charge of Chelsea, he would have been accused of parking the bus with this performance but against a team as good as City, it is hard to find a bus big enough.

This was City’s 12th league victory in succession, a run that has defied the ravages of Covid and the pressures of the holiday period. City just march on and on and on. The forbidding reality for their rivals is that they seem to be getting better and better and better. Tuchel might have masterminded three victories over City last season but in this encounter, the gap in quality between the two sides was impossible to disguise.

‘The quality, the deliveries and the composure was absolutely not on top level today,’ Tuchel said later. ‘You need top level to get half chances and chances, and that's what we lacked in the first half. Our offensive players need to show up more. We need consistency. Chelsea is not a place to hide.’

Instead of looking upwards, Chelsea may now have to start looking nervously over their shoulders as Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham and Manchester United try to rein them in. They had one clear chance against City’s parsimonious defence but Romelu Lukaku could not take it. They progressed to the final of the Carabao Cup last week and it appears the knock-out competitions are, once more, their best chance of success this season.


Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Cancelo; De Bruyne (c) (Gundogan 85), Rodri, Silva; Sterling, Foden (Gabriel Jesus 88), Grealish

Substitutes not used: Steffen (GK); Dias, Fernandinho, Mbete, McAtee, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Scorer: De Bruyne 70

Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Arrizabalaga; Rudiger, Silva, Sarr; Azpilicueta (c), Kante, Kovacic, Alonso (Mount 81); Pulisic (Werner 69), Ziyech (Hudson-Odoi 69); Lukaku

Substitutes not used: Bettinelli (GK); Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek, Saul Niguez, Barkley, Havertz

Manager: Thomas Tuchel

Booked: Alonso, Kovacic

Referee: Craig Pawson Attendance: 53,319

Season at a glance
City goalkeeper Ederson denied Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku early in the second-half but the visitors were second best
City could have led late in the first-half but Jack Grealish was denied by a sprawling save by Kepa Arrizabalaga 

City boss Pep Guardiola made a host of changes from the team that had beaten Swindon Town in the FA Cup third round and included Jack Grealish on the left of City’s fluid front three. Grealish has had an uneven time since his £100m arrival from Aston Villa in the summer and his recall in a match of this magnitude was a chance to make a belated statement.

Instead, most of City’s attacks went down the right where Raheem Sterling gave Marcos Alonso a torrid time, particularly after Alonso had been booked early on for fouling him. On the other flank, Grealish toiled in vain to make an impact, his halting efforts stymied by the formidable combination of Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta. Too often, he ran up blind alleys.

Chelsea found it hard to get a foothold in the game. They could not get the ball and on the rare occasions that they did, they could not keep it. Tuchel appeared to be particularly exasperated with the contribution of Lukaku whose interventions in the action were sporadic.

Lukaku has been rehabilitated by Tuchel after his controversial interview with Sky Italia but the relationship between manager and centre forward still appears uneasy. Time and again, Tuchel leapt from the dug-out to remonstrate with Lukaku, spreading his arms out wide, looking for an explanation why he had misplaced a pass or given away possession. Lukaku did his best to ignore him.

Lukaku was responsible for one of the only half-chances of the opening 45 minutes, though. He took the ball midway inside the City half with his back to goal and bullied his way past the wrestling of John Stones. But as he advanced on goal, there was another clue that Lukaku is still lacking confidence. Instead of shooting, he tried to play in Hakim Ziyech with a reverse pass. The pass was mishit and Ziyech was offside anyway. A rare opportunity had been wasted.
It had been an opening period of few clear-cut chances but Grealish should have done better as he closed in on goal
There was an early moment of panic for Chelsea when Kepa blasted his clearance against Cesar Azpilicueta
Romelu Lukaku charges away from John Stones but the Belgian opted to pass to Hakim Ziyech instead of going for goal

‘Sometimes he has to do the service,’ Tuchel said of Lukaku after the match when he was asked if he was getting enough service. ‘He had many ball losses and a huge chance. Of course we want to serve him but he's part of the team. The performance up front in the first half, we can do much, much better.’

When Ziyech returned the favour a few minutes later by overhitting a through ball that would have freed Lukaku, Tuchel exploded out of his dugout again, inconsolable about the waste. It was hard to blame him. City were so dominant in every area that it was hard not to wonder when a Chelsea chance would come again.

For all their superiority, City were finding it hard to create clear chances, too, but Chelsea started to look exhausted by the chase and demoralised by City’s dominance. Finally, five minutes before half time, it looked as if City were going to break through when Kevin de Bruyne dispossessed Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the Chelsea area. The ball ran on to Grealish but when he tried to slip his shot round Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea keeper deflected it wide with his left leg.

There were more chances after the interval. De Bruyne slid a ball across the Chelsea box and Sterling seemed to have got ahead of his marker in the race to meet it when he went down. The referee waved away claims for a penalty. A minute later, Chelsea broke and Kovacic played Lukaku in on goal.
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling tries to break away from the Chelsea defence during his team's win at the Etihad
De Bruyne receives a warm embrace from his manager Pep Guardiola as he is substituted late in the match

Lukaku has yet to score against a top six club this season and this was his chance to put that right and silence jibes that he is a flat-track bully. He tried to curl a left foot shot round Ederson but the City goalkeeper pushed it out with his right hand and Ziyech blasted the rebound high over the bar.

It did not take long for Chelsea to rue that miss. Twenty minutes from time, De Bruyne slipped away from N’Golo Kante midway inside the Chelsea half and ran at the retreating defence. When he got to the edge of the area, he used Thiago Silva as a shield and curled his shot around him. Arrizabalaga took half a step in the wrong direction and by the time he corrected himself, it was too late. The ball flew beyond his despairing dive and into the bottom corner.

Chelsea never looked like forcing their way back into the game. As they attacked in vain, their fans still brandished those inflatable trophies behind the goal and took their pride in the memories of the past. In the present, there is no comfort for any team but City.

‘We won't give up,’ Tuchel said afterwards in what seemed close to a concession speech, ‘but if City keep on winning every game, nobody can catch them.’



KICK-OFF: We’re off and running in Manchester

Here we go then. First versus second in the Premier League this Saturday lunchtime.

Both sides in their home colours, differing shades of blue and no clash.

It’s the champions of England against the champions of Europe. Here's a reminder of the two teams for you as Romelu Lukaku kicks us off:

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Sterling, Grealish, Foden

Substitutes: Dias, Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus, Steffen, Fernandinho, Mbete-Tabu, McAtee, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Sarr, Thiago Silva, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso, Ziyech, Pulisic, Lukaku

Substitutes: Jorginho, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Bettinelli, Saul, Barkley, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Havertz


Guardiola reveals how Covid hit City

JACK GAUGHAN: Pep Guardiola insisted that Manchester City will continue playing on even if they cannot field any first-team stars on their bench due to absences.

The Premier League calendar is facing a fixture backlog, with clubs able to apply for postponements if they cannot call upon 13 established outfield players and a goalkeeper.

Twenty-one members of City’s bubble, including their manager, were forced into isolation last week and the champions have since recorded more Covid cases ahead of today’s title clash with Chelsea.


Guardiola reveals Man City have been struck by 'some new Covid cases'

Pep Guardiola revealed that Manchester City have endured fresh coronavirus cases ahead of Saturday's title clash with Chelsea. The manager was back to take training on Thursday.


Tuchel refuses to give up the title chase

MATT BARLOW: Thomas Tuchel’s bold declarations about hunting down Manchester City may have lost their threat but Chelsea are not yet prepared to surrender the chase.

‘We would love to be closer,’ said Tuchel on the eve of today’s lunchtime clash at the Etihad Stadium.

‘We would love to have more points. We are never happy when we are behind our own standards and this is where we are.

‘At the same time, we have trust. We are still hungry. The season is not finished. We will never give up. We will try to bring out the very best that is possible.’


Thomas Tuchel's bold declarations about hunting down Manchester City may have lost their threat but Chelsea are not yet prepared to surrender the chase as the two teams set to face off on Saturday.

KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: City contest should suit Lukaku… there can be no excuses for the Chelsea striker

MARTIN KEOWN: Manchester City are on an incredible 11-game winning streak. If they make it a magnificent 12 today, they will most likely knock one of their rivals out of the title race.

Chelsea would be too far adrift to catch up if they lose. Even a draw wouldn't do much good. This is a must-win for Thomas Tuchel.

He beat Pep Guardiola three times towards the end of last season - in the FA Cup semi final, Premier League and in the Champions League final. Tuchel's men must treat today as if it is another final.


MARTIN KEOWN: There's been enough focus on Lukaku lately that I expect it will make him want to rise to the challenge. There will be key battles all over the pitch today, including in midfield.


Opta facts and stats for the big game

Chelsea won this exact fixture 2-1 last season, last winning consecutive away league games against Man City during a run of four between 2005 and 2008.

This will be the 50th Premier League meeting between Man City and Chelsea; City won just three of their first 25 against Chelsea (D4 L18) but have since won 12 of the last 24 (D3 L9).

This is just the second ever Premier League meeting between Manchester City and Chelsea as the top two sides in the division. The other came in January 2015, with second placed City earning a 1-1 draw at league leaders Chelsea.

Manchester City have won their last 11 Premier League games, their fifth such run of 11+ consecutive victories in the competition. Three of their previous four such runs have been ended in a home match - 1-2 vs West Ham in September 2015, 2-2 vs Spurs in August 2019 and 0-2 vs Man Utd in March 2021.

Chelsea have lost just one of their last 15 Premier League games (W8 D6), going down 3-2 at West Ham in December. However, the Blues have picked up just one win from their last five league games (D4), throwing away a lead in two of those four draws.


THE NUMBERS GAME: Why Lukaku is still affected by that ‘flat track bully’ tag

Romelu Lukaku's £97.5million club-record return to Chelsea has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, in which no one knows when the next twist is coming.

He appeared set to lead Chelsea's charge for the Premier League title after arriving from Inter Milan, scoring three goals in as many top-flight games and bullying an Arsenal defence short on confidence.

However, after four goalless Premier League games came an ankle sprain that kept him out of six fixtures across all competitions, before coronavirus struck soon after.


THE NUMBERS GAME - KISHAN VAGHELA: Romelu Lukaku's £97.5million club-record return to Chelsea has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.


Confirmation of the two line-ups today

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Sterling, Grealish, Foden

Substitutes: Dias, Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus, Steffen, Fernandinho, Mbete-Tabu, McAtee, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Sarr, Thiago Silva, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso, Ziyech, Pulisic, Lukaku

Substitutes: Jorginho, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Bettinelli, Saul, Barkley, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Havertz

Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

Both managers have made quite a few changes then.

Pep Guardiola has made four alterations from City’s win over Arsenal a couple of weeks ago. Dias, Ake, Mahrez and Jesus out for Walker, Stones, Grealish and Foden.

Five changes for Chelsea from the side that beat Tottenham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. Christensen, Hudson-Odoi, Jorginho, Mount and Werner drop out with Thiago Silva, Kante, Ziyech, Pulisic and Lukaku coming back in.

The Premier League weekend

Here’s the Premier League fixture list for the weekend. One game already played last night, one has fallen victim to Covid and the north London derby is in doubt after depleted Arsenal applied to the Premier League to get it called off. A decision is expected soon.



Manchester City vs Chelsea (12.30pm)

Burnley P-P Leicester City

Newcastle United vs Watford (3pm)

Norwich City vs Everton (3pm)

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Southampton (3pm)

Aston Villa vs Manchester United (5.30pm)


Liverpool vs Brentford (2pm)

West Ham United vs Leeds United (2pm)

Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal (4.30pm)


Our last hope for a decent title race?

Is this the day the Premier League title is decided?

It’s seems faintly absurd to be saying that on January 15 but Manchester City are playing so well at the moment, they could easily run away with it.

Already 10 points ahead of Chelsea in second, that could move to 13 if they beat their challengers at the Etihad Stadium this lunchtime.

You have to agree that 13 points is a daunting mountain to climb.

So it may not only be Chelsea but neutral everywhere hoping they can win today and cut that gap, keeping interest alive at the top of the Premier League.

Welcome along to our live coverage of one of the stand-out fixtures on the football calendar.

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