If the prize will ultimately go to those prepared to be bold, then Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City will replace Chelsea as champions.
No team in this league, not even the free-scoring Manchester United, seeks the initiative and demands the ball as they do.
And it will seemingly take more than the erratic driving of an Amsterdam cabbie to thwart their plans. No Sergio Aguero, no problem: Guardiola still set out to take on the reigning champions in their backyard, outpass and outplay them, and go home with the spoils.
Kevin De Bruyne sent the travelling fans into raptures with his brilliant finish to put City ahead in the second half
The Belgian scored with a well placed shot from the edge of the box which left Thibaut Courtois with no chance
Courtois was well beaten by his international team-mate and the strike silenced the home support in west London
De Bruyne’s effort gave City the deserved lead after the visitors had dominated possession up until that point
Pep Guardiola was rightfully delighted with his players and congratulated them after the final whistle was blown
It was a night to forget for Antonio Conte as champions Chelsea were largely dominated by their opponents
Of course, fortune doesn’t always favour such boldness. And for much of this game it seemed the wiliness of Antonio Conte would smother the idealism of Guardiola. No matter that he was at home: once he had unluckily lost his only trusted centre forward in Alvaro Morata to a first half injury, Conte was prepared to sit this one out with no recognised striker on the pitch.
And only when City did take the lead was Michy Batshuayi introduced. With his midfield three and with Anders Christiansen a natural born leader at the back, Chelsea were happy to harry City on the counter and did so quite effectively.
On this occasion though, pragmatism was undone. City weren’t at their glittering best. But they toiled and stuck to the plan. They aspired after creativity and perfection even when they fell short.
And eventually, through the unerringly influential Kevin De Bruyne, they struck a wonderful and deserved winner. They might have won by a healthier margin, when Gabriel Jesus almost decapitated Antonio Rudigder with a fierce shot the Chelsea defender header off the line. No matter: the result rather than the scoreline was what mattered and sent a decisive message with which to conclude the first quarter of the season.
MATCH FACTS, LIVE TABLE AND MATCHZONE
Courtois 7, Rudiger 7, Christensen 7, Cahill 6, Azpilicueta 7, Kante 7.5, Bakayoko 6.5(Batshuayi), Fabregas 6.5, Alonso 6.5, Hazard 7 (Pedro), Morata 6 (Willian)
Caballero, Moses, Kenedy, Zappacosta,
Ederson 8.5, Walker 7, Stones 7.5, Otamendi 7, Delph 7, Fernandinho 7, Sterling 7, De Bruyne 9 (Danilo), Silva 8.5 (B. Silva), Sane 7 (Gundogan), Jesus 8
Bravo, Mangala, Zinchenko, Toure
Bookings: Fernandinho, Otamendi
Goals: De Bruyne (67)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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Kevin De Bruyne scored the opener after a brilliant team move. For more from our Matchzone feature, click here
Tiemoue Bakayoko fires a dangerous ball across the face of the box but Manchester City keep the hosts at bay
Alvaro Morata (left) was forced to come off and appeared to be struggling with a hamstring niggle in the first half
Antonio Conte was his usual expressive self as he prowled the touchline and instructed his players at Stamford Bridge
Alvaro Morata competes for possession with Fabian Delph (left) and Nicolas Otamendi (right) during the first half
On the touchline there was almost as much energy expended as on the pitch: Guardiola would thump his thigh, screw up into an anguished face every time sacred possession was lost, which was often; Conte at one point turned and bawled out his coaching staff as they vicariously bore the brunt of Chelsea’s own laxity in possession.
Indeed, no team quite grasped the game in that opening half, though City at least tried to do so, as was predictable given Guardiola’s desire to seize the initiative in every game he plays.
Sergio Aguero’s Amsterdam escapades didn’t alter the attacking intent, nor did Benjamin Mendy’s absence.
Once or twice Raheem Sterling, who consistently had the better of Marcos Alonso and Gary Cahill, was only a centimetre away from playing in Gabriel Jesus; Nicolas Otamendi headed a clear chance wide from a corner; David Silva almost surprised Thibaut Courtois with a snatched shot oin 30minutes; and the Belgian goalkeeper had to react smartly again on 45 minutes when Fernandinho met De Buryne’s corner firmly.
David Silva attempts to evade Gary Cahill as he squirms away from the Chelsea defender with the ball at his feet
John Stones went down with an injury early in the game but managed to shake it off and stay on the pitch
Early on, Gabriel Jesus had almost caught Courtois out, chasing down a back pass and seeing the deflected kick from the goalkeeper loop over the bar.
But there was none of the slickness City exhibit against lesser sides, hence Guardiola’s frustration. They should have made more of the plenty they had. Chelsea by contrast were content to sit back and wait their chance so there was less chance to impress, but Anders Christensen look every inch a leader filling in for David Luiz.
And when Chelsea counter they do so delightfully, especially with Alvaro Morata playing on the very edge of the defensive line, and Eden Hazard poised impishly, just a yard or so behind him. Conte paired that duo together up front and opting for a midfield three with Cesar Azpilcueta preferred at wing back over Victor Moses, a further sign of caution.
Yet their threat always lingered at least it did until the 34th minute when Morata withdrew with what looked like a sore hamstring. He had been their principal outlet, almost embarrassing City when running on to a Cesc Fabregas threaded pass on 15 minutes, which was only just offside.
He had destroyed John Stones on 28 minutes, turning him one way, then the other, though Stones ultimately did well to recover and Kyle Walker blocked the shot. Azpilicueta went closest, his shot on 26 minutes seen later by Ederson, who dived to tip it wide.
Andreas Christensen rises high above Gabriel Jesus and plants a powerful header on the ball to clear his lines
Delph lets a shot fly from outside the box but his effort comes to nothing despite the clean strike from the midfielder
Leroy Sane uses a burst of speed to accelerate away from Tiemoue Bakayoko, showing off his great athleticism
Raheem Sterling goes down after being sandwiched by Chelsea’s midfield duo N’Golo Kante and Bakayoko
A game of such stakes required something clinical. Sadly, it was lacking for long periods. So when a De Bruyne corner cleared all heads and bounced invitingly for Sterling on the edge of the box on 55 minutes, the England man could only offer a looping strike well over the crossbar, greeted by ironic cheers in The Shed.
City continued to dominate; yet Chelsea maintained their foothold in the game, executing their plan faithfully. On a rare opportunity to run at City on 60 minutes, Hazard tempted Fernandinho into a foul, hacking at his feet, which merited a yellow card. The quick and clever reverse pass from Fabregas from the free kick almost created an opening goal, Hazard advancing and striking quickly but seeing Ederson parry his shot.
City’s chances were more plentiful yet tantalising indecisive. There was Marcos Alonso throwing himself to block a David Silva strike; Sterling crossing agonisingly just behind Jesus. Yet Guardiola is nothing if not faithful and his creed states that possession will ultimately endure. And on this occasion, his mantra was exonerated on 67 minutes.
Playing from the back, City found De Bruyne. Head up, he advanced, exchanged quick passes with Jesus before striking a delightful, powerful, curling shot beyond Courtois and into the far corner of the net. The trajectory of his run allowed him to continue into the arms of the celebrating City fans. It was well deserved.
Eden Hazard struggled to make his mark on the game and was eventually replaced by Pedro in the second half
Kante has a rare foray forward with the ball but spent large parts of the game performing his defensive duties
Guardiola will be delighted to see his side go back level with rivals Manchester United on points at the summit of the table