Are Liverpool, Arsenal the real winners after Chelsea stall Man City’s title charge?

Sports

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City and Chelsea played out an entertaining, and at times chaotic, 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday and afterwards both teams were able to take both positives and negatives.

City showed the occasional vulnerability of their high defensive line to concede the opening goal, scored by Raheem Sterling, and only managed one goal themselves thanks to Rodri‘s late equaliser despite having 31 shots. Again, though, Pep Guardiola’s side showed their character and determination to earn an 18th point from a losing position. Only Liverpool have won more after going behind this season.

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For Chelsea, the big positive was in their performance for the first hour and perhaps it would have been enough to win the game had they taken more of their chances when they were on top. Missing opportunities has been a familiar issue for Mauricio Pochettino this season, but it was still a contender for Chelsea’s best display since the Argentinian took over last summer.

“So pleased,” said Pochettino after the match. “The effort was massive and the spirit is the way we want to compete with the talent we have. I think we will reach, one day, the levels we expect. To play the best team in the world is never easy and today the character and personality made me very happy.”

On the other side, Guardiola was unhappy with City’s first half performance but on a different day — with Erling Haaland in top form — they would still have won comfortably. For the first time since arriving in England, Haaland had nine shots in a game without scoring and the Norwegian will not want to see a replay of his chance midway through the second half.

Kevin De Bruyne‘s cross from the left was pinpoint and as it curled its way towards Haaland, the Etihad Stadium began to rise in anticipation of the net bulging. But it didn’t. His header went over the crossbar to sum up a day when the 23-year-old, who has scored 21 times this season, looked a little out of sorts.

“It’s good to have nine shots and next time he’s going to score,” said Guardiola. “I played for 11 years and scored 11 goals. One goal a season. I’m not a proper man to give advice to strikers. We create the chances and next time he’s going to score. I don’t blame him. As a team and a group, the first half was not like we are.”

Not only will the first half encourage Pochettino that he can eventually turn Chelsea into title challengers, it will encourage Liverpool and Arsenal that City can be beaten.

Sterling’s goal just before half-time came from a slick sequence of passing on the right and Nicolas Jackson racing into acres of space behind City’s back four. His cross allowed Sterling to dip inside Kyle Walker and score against his former club for the second time this season.

Chelsea probably should have already been ahead at that point when the same move on the same side of the pitch released Malo Gusto but Jackson’s touch in the middle was heavy and Éderson smothered the chance. Chelsea had another opportunity early in the second half, again running beyond City’s defence, and Éderson was required to make a terrific save from Sterling’s point-blank shot.

Liverpool and Arsenal, who won their games earlier on Saturday, both face City in March and you can be sure Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta will be watching replays of this game during their preparation.

“I will invite you to the training ground because it is difficult to explain [our plan] in a few words or sentences,” said Pochettino.

“We know very well how Manchester City play more at the Etihad and it is important [for them] to sustain the capacity to dominate. They force you to go deep. If you are not brave enough after when you have the ball and you force them to run back. For us it was a really important game for us to keep the momentum to realise we are in a good way improving. Still we are not at the level of Manchester City but that is our game.”

Speaking at his pre-match news conference on Friday, Guardiola branded Chelsea’s visit as “one of the hardest games between now and the end of the season” and in the end he was proved right. Still, it took an off day for City and a good day for Chelsea to pose any threat to an unbeaten home record in the Premier League which stretches back to Nov. 2022.

Despite positives and negatives for both teams, the travelling Chelsea fans celebrated the final whistle like it was a victory while the City supporters quietly shuffled out into the Manchester rain.

“We didn’t perform at our level in the first half,” said Guardiola. “When we play teams with the composure and prestige of Chelsea you have to perform at your best for 95 minutes.”

On a good day for Pochettino and a rare off one for Guardiola, Chelsea showed that they’re still playing catch-up and City proved again why they remain the team to beat this season.

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