Chelsea tormented Man City once again by delaying their title-winning party and boosting their own top-four hopes with the help of an awful Panenka penalty miss by Sergio Aguero during their 2-1 comeback win at the Etihad on Saturday.
Hakim Ziyech, who had ended City’s Quadruple dreams in a FA Cup semi-final last month, was on target again to cancel out Raheem Sterling’s opener for the much-changed hosts, before Marcos Alonso (90+2) grabbed a deserved stoppage-time winner for the visitors against a side they will meet in the Champions League final on May 29.
A mis-control from Aguero – City’s most-famous title-clincher of all – had allowed Sterling to find the net for the first time in 13 games on 44 minutes but another error from the striker moments later proved far more costly, with his weak spot-kick easily saved.
Chelsea capitalised and had the upper hand throughout the second period, with Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi seeing efforts ruled out for offside after Ziyech’s leveller on 63 minutes, and they leapfrogged Leicester into third place in the Premier League with Alonso’s last-gasp finish from close range.
Chelsea are now six points clear of fifth-placed West Ham in the top-four race, while City – who were aggrieved not to be awarded a late penalty when Sterling was tumbled by Kurt Zouma – could still reclaim the crown this weekend if Manchester United lose at Aston Villa on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
The exertions of reaching the Champions League final was reflected on both team sheets, with Man City making nine changes and leaving out key man Kevin De Bruyne completely, while Mason Mount, Thiago Silva, and Ben Chilwell were also given the evening off by Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel..
That reshuffle saw Pep Guardiola field his City side in an unconventional 5-1-4 formation, although it was a mistake by Andreas Christensen, one of Chelsea’s six starters from their midweek win over Real Madrid, which presented the first chance of the match to Ferran Torres, who fired over under pressure from Antonio Rudiger. A similar mistake from the defender at the end of the half wouldn’t go unpunished.
With City on the front foot, Benjamin Mendy shot wide, although there was a scare for the hosts when VAR took a closer look at Sterling’s high tackle on Werner, before the officials in Stockley Park decided against upgrading his yellow card to a red.
As the visitors began to get to grips with City’s set-up there was something of a stalemate until Werner saw a strike ruled out for offside just after the half-hour, after turning in Reece James’ mis-hit shot.
That sparked a flurry of efforts at goal, with a scuffed Sterling volley and long-range Ziyech effort failing to trouble either keeper – but with the half looking like it would finish goalless, drama struck just before the break.
On 44 minutes, Christensen got his clearance all wrong from a ball into the channel from Ruben Dias and Gabriel Jesus squared for Aguero. The usually clinical striker let the ball get away from him but Sterling was there to tap City ahead and end his personal goal drought.
Raheem Sterling celebrates after making it 1-0The action was not over though, and, as Chelsea tried to replace Christensen, who had hurt his hamstring, Jesus was brought down in the box by Billy Gilmour.
Aguero had looked less than impressed with Sterling pouncing on his error for the opener but spectacularly fluffed his chance to get on the scoresheet with the spot-kick, chipping the ball tamely for Mendy to gather on the stroke of half-time.
That miss proved costly as Chelsea took control at the start of the second half and turned their dominance in possession into an equaliser when Rodri gave away the ball and Ziyech lashed in from the edge of the box from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross.
With the momentum on the visitors’ side, Reece James swung in a couple of wicked crosses, the first was just beyond Werner’s reach and the second taken off the striker’s head by a flick from Aymeric Laporte. The frustration for Werner continued when he found the net for a second time and was again ruled offside – an issue in the forward’s game he will have to address.
Substitute Hudson-Odoi went the same way with 10 minutes to play, tucking in another fine cross from James before seeing the offside flag stop his celebrations.
City still threatened on the break, with substitute Zouma producing a brilliant tackle to deny Sterling before breathing a sigh of relief when VAR judged him not to have fouled the forward soon after when the England international went down in the box.
That decision proved pivotal as Chelsea went up the other end, broke clear with Werner, and grabbed all three points with Alonso’s scuffed finish with 92 minutes on the clock….. The question now is whether Chelsea can beat City for a third time in a row when they meet in the Champions League final.