Manchester City retain the hunger to fight off challengers to their Premier League title, manager Pep Guardiola said after beating Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge to take revenge for losing last season’s Champions League final to the Blues.
Gabriel Jesus’ deflected effort eight minutes into the second-half separated the sides, but City should have been more convincing winners as they laid down a marker after losing to Chelsea three times towards the end of last season.
The most painful of those came in Porto as Chelsea lifted the Champions League to deny City the crowning glory of the club’s rise since an Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008.
Thomas Tuchel’s men had also got off to a better start this season, but City bounced back from a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Southampton last weekend to move level on points with Chelsea, Manchester United and leaders Liverpool, who face Brentford later on Saturday.
“Today the guys were outstanding. At this stadium and against this opponent, to do what we have done makes me so proud,” said Guardiola, who became the City boss with most victories in the club’s history with 221.
“I still have the feeling the players are ready try to do again another good season. It gives us the awareness to say we can do it again, we are still here.”
Guardiola was fiercely criticised for his decision to start without a natural holding midfielder when the sides last met in May.
That error was rectified with the return of Rodri and the Spaniard’s poise helped Guardiola’s men completely dominate possession.
However, City’s lack of a prolific goalscorer to turn that dominance into goals was again exposed.
Guardiola bemoaned on Friday that his side lack a “weapon” of the likes of Chelsea’s record signing Romelu Lukaku or Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo to decide games inside the box.
Instead, City have to rely on the collective of a richly assembled squad of creative midfielders as Guardiola named Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva in his starting line-up.
Rather than stepping into the shoes of the departed Sergio Aguero, Jesus has found himself deployed as a right winger so far this season.
The Brazilian should have done better with City’s best chance of the first-half when he sliced well wide after controlling Silva’s cross to the far post.
However, Jesus got the break City’s performance deserved to open the scoring on 53 minutes as his effort deflected off Jorginho to leave Mendy flat-footed.
That was just the 15th Premier League goal Chelsea had conceded in 25 games since Tuchel took charge.
But there could have been plenty more but for a combination of wasteful finishing and some brilliant last-ditch defending.
“We were excellent, but only in the last 20 metres of the pitch not the other 80 metres,” said Tuchel. “Part of the performance is to make your opponent underperform and City did that.
“We lacked belief and confidence to escape (the pressure). With every mistake we did, we lost more confidence. In the end we defended the box and the goal very well but it was too deep.”
City’s £100 million summer splash on Grealish rather than a goalscorer has been questioned, but the England international came to life after the break and only two stunning saves by Mendy prevented the visitors doubling their lead.
Jesus’ lack of a killer instinct was also exposed when he appeared to have an open goal after another dangerous Grealish burst, only for his low finish to allow international teammate Thiago Silva to clear off the line.
But the Premier League champions’ profligacy was not punished and United’s shock 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa capped a stunning Saturday for Guardiola’s men.