Jack Grealish | AFP
LONDON: Manchester City broke its run of losses to Chelsea by handing its Premier League title rival a first defeat of the season thanks to Gabriel Jesus’ deflected goal in a 1-0 win on Saturday.
In the latest match to highlight City’s need for a striker, Pep Guardiola’s team required a dose of fortune for the winner as Jesus took aim from just inside the area and the ball squirmed into the bottom corner off Chelsea midfielder Jorginho’s heel in the 53rd minute.
Chelsea had beaten City in their last three meetings — most recently in the Champions League final in May — but was largely outplayed at Stamford Bridge. Indeed, it wasn’t a bigger margin of victory only because of City’s lack of an out-and-out center forward.
The result lifted City above Chelsea in the standings, on goal difference after six games, but there was a greater significance to the victory.
After its strong start to the season — four wins, a draw at Liverpool and only one goal conceded — Chelsea had been anointed by increasing numbers as the title favorite this season.
But the way City dominated possession and reduced Chelsea to mostly long balls showed that Guardiola’s team, the defending champion, might still be the team to beat.
Although City has had some big wins this season, like the 5-0s against Norwich and Arsenal and a 6-3 over Leipzig in the Champions League, a 0-0 draw with Southampton last weekend was a glaring reminder of the fact Guardiola failed to sign a striker in the offseason to replace Sergio Aguero.
And against Chelsea, Guardiola’s team saw much more of the ball in midfield — the Spanish coach essentially played five attacking midfielders ahead of Rodri at the base — but there was no striker to make the kind of runs to finish off the flowing moves.
And, in the end, it required a lucky break to make the breakthrough after Joao Cancelo’s shot from the edge of the area landed at the feet of the Brazil forward, who was again used as a right winger at Stamford Bridge.
City regularly picked up Chelsea on the break after that, and only a goal-line clearance by Thiago Silva, who came on for the injured Reece James in the first half, prevented Jesus adding a second.
As for Chelsea, it had the kind of striker Guardiola craves — in Romelu Lukaku — but he barely saw the ball. And when he did, his link-up play was off.