Chelsea’s Ziyech and Alonso keep wasteful Manchester City waiting

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·5-min read
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Nine years ago, Sergio Agüero conjured his never-to-be-forgotten moment to clinch Manchester City’s first Premier League title at the very last against Queens Park Rangers and now, the iconic striker had the chance to secure his club’s fifth – and their seventh top division championship overall.

With City leading through Raheem Sterling’s goal, Agüero stood over a penalty in first-half stoppage time. Score it and City would surely stride towards the victory they needed to make sure of things with time to spare, enabling them to focus everything on their Champions League final date with Chelsea on 29 May.

Related: Manchester City 1-2 Chelsea: Premier League – live!

Agüero, who will leave the club at the end of the season, fancied wrapping it up in style. He went for the Panenka, chipping the kick up the middle, only the disguise was not there. Édouard Mendy, the Chelsea goalkeeper, had started to move to his right but he had all the time in the world to readjust and, pretty much, catch the ball in one hand.

On the touchline, Pep Guardiola lost himself in a fury while, in the seats behind him, the City substitutes turned on their heels, jaws travelling towards the floor in unison. Oh dear.

Chelsea had needed something to maintain their push for a top four finish. More significantly, perhaps, they needed something to lay down a psychological marker ahead of the European final. They would get it and then some on the back of a magnificent second-half performance.

Thomas Tuchel’s team had made inroads up the inside left channel before the interval. Now, they got in up the other side, with Reece James, in particular, making life uncomfortable for Benjamin Mendy.

Hakim Ziyech’s equaliser followed a cut-back from the right by César Azpilicueta and, at the very end, the substitute, Callum Hudson-Odoi, played in Timo Werner up the same area and his cross was scrambled home by Marcos Alonso.

City were dazed. Moments earlier, they thought that they had a second penalty when the Chelsea substitute, Kurt Zouma, lost Sterling and watched him go to ground. Sterling appeared to slow down and use the advantage of his position before feeling the contact and there was outrage on the City bench when there was no award.

The day had started for City with their team bus being welcomed into the stadium by a crowd of a few hundred fans, who let off blue smoke canisters and bellowed their conviction that the title would shortly be theirs. Although it remains a foregone conclusion that they will win it, they must wait.

Guardiola made dramatic changes to the starting line-up that had beaten Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-final, second-leg last Tuesday – nine in total – and there was no place in the squad for Kevin De Bruyne.

There was a new-look 3-3-2-2 formation and Guardiola’s idea was for Ferran Torres and Sterling to tuck inside and allow the wing-backs, João Cancelo and Mendy, to push high and wide. It did not work, mainly because Chelsea made it so difficult by closing the space between the lines.

The first half was a slow-burner, with the only real chances coming when Nathan Aké headed over from a corner for City and Ziyech extended Ederson at the other end on 43 minutes.

The game was blown open shortly after that when the Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen came across to deal with a ball up the inside right channel, pursued by Gabriel Jesus, and failed to make the clearance, toppling over and injuring himself in the process.

It was the second time that Christensen had misjudged a pass in that position and, on this occasion, he paid. Jesus crossed and, although Agüero took an awful touch inside the area with the goal gaping, Sterling was on hand to sweep home.

The penalty award followed straight away, with Chelsea temporarily down to ten men, Tuchel having tried and failed to get Zouma on for Christensen. Torres crossed low and Jesus, who had got himself on the wrong side of Billy Gilmour, tangled with him and went down. The decision looked soft, although not as soft as Agüero’s penalty.

Tuchel was his usual blur of histrionics, his ire having been stoked on 12 minutes when Sterling stretched into a terrible tackle on Werner, having lost the ball. He crashed into the striker’s lower leg and was fortunate to get away with a booking.

Tuchel’s line-up was closer to full-strength than Guardiola’s, although it still showed five changes to the one that had begun the Champions League semi-final, second-leg win against Real Madrid last Wednesday. Furthermore, Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva and Mason Mount did not travel.

Werner looked dangerous with his movements, although he frustrated by going too early at times to enter offside positions. Ziyech was excellent and he sparked the move for his equaliser when he robbed Rodri. Chelsea worked the break smartly, with Azpilicueta and Christian Pulisic involved, and Ziyech’s finish was rasped into the bottom corner.

The closing stages were chaotic. Hudson-Odoi had a goal ruled out for a hairline offside following a James cross while, before the Sterling penalty appeal, Zouma had made a fabulous saving challenge on him. The City substitute, Phil Foden, also flicked wide and Alonso, just before his winner, sent a chip narrowly off target.

It was wild and incident-filled and, when the dust had settled, Tuchel could reflect upon a second victory over City after that in last month’s FA Cup semi-final. Does he have Guardiola’s number?

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