Pep Guardiola creates a winning culture not seen since Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United

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·26-min read
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Kevin De Bruyne celebrates with teammate Raheem Sterling after scoring Manchester City's first goal - Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates with teammate Raheem Sterling after scoring Manchester City's first goal - Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

One of the biggest compliments you can pay Manchester City under Pep Guardiola is that you can easily forget when big players are missing. They are so good, so fluid, so well oiled in the manager’s system that they can absorb absentees like few others, despite having a smaller squad than many people realise.

Perhaps that helps to explain why Thomas Tuchel and Virgil van Dijk’s claims last week about City being lucky as far as injuries and Covid-19 cases are concerned rang hollow. Players have been missing, you just would not think it. Take, for example, the 1-0 win over Chelsea, when City took another huge step towards a fourth Premier League title in five seasons courtesy of Kevin De Bruyne’s 70th-minute strike.

It was John Stones and Kyle Walker’s first appearances in the league for four weeks and six weeks respectively, even if you would have seldom realised two of City’s most influential defenders had been largely unavailable during a period when the champions built up an extraordinary head of steam. What is more, they played against Chelsea like they had never been away.

But for the first 10 minutes, when a slip from Stones allowed Romelu Lukaku to power towards goal, the England centre-back did not put a foot wrong. Walker also slotted back in fairly seamlessly. It speaks volumes for the squad’s mental strength and the environment fostered by Guardiola.

Not since Sir Alex Ferguson assembled a winning machine at Manchester United has the Premier League had a culture like the one Guardiola has created over a near six-year period with City. Everyone gets games and everyone buys into the ethos. Winning helps enormously, but City operate a virtuous circle.

In other hands, the situation with Raheem Sterling this season could have spiralled out of control. Instead, the England forward accepted the challenge Guardiola threw down and has been rewarded. There have been clear signs recently of Sterling returning to his best.

Similarly, with doubts over Aymeric Laporte’s future in the summer after a season in which he mostly played second fiddle to Stones and Ruben Dias, the centre-half situation had the potential to be one of Guardiola’s biggest headaches and sources of conflict. After all, few other teams possess three such formidable central defenders.

Stones’s injury problems have given the manager one less awkward decision to make, but the defender has learnt the value of patience and perseverance and took his chance on Saturday. Asked why Dias did not start against Chelsea, Guardiola said: “I decided on John, that’s all.”

The Chelsea game was the seventh clean sheet City have kept during this 12-match winning run in the league and helps to explain why, when they get their noses in front, they invariably go on to win.

Since Guardiola arrived in Manchester in 2016, City have won 90 per cent of the Premier League matches in which they have scored first, and this season have won all 17 league games in which they have taken the lead.

One of the more perverse accusations being levelled at City is that their dominance is rendering the Premier League boring, but if vast resources alone determine success, why do Manchester United trail the leaders by 24 points?

No one was saying the Premier League was a turn-off when Ferguson won five of seven titles with United in the years before his retirement in 2013. Ferguson bent the Premier League to his will, and Guardiola is doing the same. It is called greatness, and it is not boring.

Kevin De Bruyne brilliance brushes aside Chelsea as Manchester City go 13 points clear

  • Kevin De Bruyne seals victory over second-placed Chelsea with superb solo effort

  • City have recorded 14 wins from their last 15 games in all competitions

  • Chelsea, meanwhile, now have three wins from their last nine Premier League games

Into the jaws of the Manchester City possession dictatorship fell even the European champions this time, as disorientated as any opponent to suffer that fate, until the moment arrived for Kevin De Bruyne to score the goal that may draw the line under this season’s title race for good.

Like every side that have lost to City since the start of November, on a run of 12 straight league victories, the ball was never quite Chelsea’s own, the game’s ripples and pulses just out of their grasp . Yet they are supposed to be the nearest challengers to the champions. The second-place side in the Premier League were moved out the way as easily as a plant pot, and could count themselves fortunate that in the end it required the inspiration of De Bruyne to score the goal that decided this match, when there could have been many more.

Kevin De Bruyne bends his outside-of-the-box shot past Kepa Arrizabalaga - PA
Kevin De Bruyne bends his outside-of-the-box shot past Kepa Arrizabalaga - PA

The title race might just be over now: and this lunchtime game had a feel of the end of the carnival. Not only is the gap to Pep Guardiola’s leaders 13 points, the sense of domination is creeping ever higher. Thomas Tuchel’s players had a better second half but by the break they looked bewildered, their German manager outraged at the feebleness of his team’s counter-attacking game. Chelsea have dropped 14 points from their last nine games which suggests that their problem is not just that City are one of the English game’s greatest ever sides.

Eight months ago, Chelsea won the Champions League final against this City side and since then there have been two victories in the league for the latter and a sense of hopelessness in their challengers. The De Bruyne moment, against his former club, was a player at the top of his game, and sometimes that is what it takes, but had it not been him it would have come from someone else. As others have fussed over postponements and Covid absences, City have destroyed what remains of the credible title challenge to them.

There might have been more goals for City but the one they did score was as good as any, De Bruyne taking the ball in the inside-left channel with a briskness in his stride that left N’Golo Kante bobbling in his wake. The Chelsea defence reacted to the breach of the line a moment too late and De Bruyne swept a right-foot shot around Kepa Arrizabalaga and inside the Chelsea goalkeeper’s left post. Against his former club in that final in Porto in May, De Bruyne had run into Antonio Rudiger’s unmoving shoulder and paid the price. This time there was no question who was in charge.

After the stadium had emptied and the last post-match interviews were being concluded pitchside, De Bruyne, still in his kit, took his two young sons onto the empty pitch and let them chase him around in the kind of circles that less than an hour earlier the Chelsea midfield had traced in a similarly hopeless pursuit.

The first half had been a write-off for the visitors. Tuchel waved his arms on the touchline and raged at his assistants. Later he exonerated his defence but castigated his attack for a lack of precision – “counter-attacks and transition chances that we really wasted”. He was at pains to point out that this was not just directed at Romelu Lukaku and it should be said that Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic were little more than passengers. Even so, there were two chances for Chelsea’s famous Belgian striker and he blew them both.

A frustrated Thomas Tuchel screams instructions to his players - GETTY IMAGES
A frustrated Thomas Tuchel screams instructions to his players - GETTY IMAGES

Tuchel’s key point was that his side did not turn transitions and turnover of possession into touches in the City area, let alone chances. He identified “eight or nine” moments when that opportunity was lost. “We could have had much more if we played with better timing and possession,” he said. As for the chances “you do not get a lot in the top games” he acknowledged and it felt that Lukaku knew that too, making bad decisions when a less tense state of mind would have yielded better results.

With a five-man defence for most of it Tuchel’s players were fighting emergencies everywhere. Marcos Alonso, a man who has pretty much won it all, was booked in the sixth minute and from then on obliged to do everything with an excess of care. But even the first six minutes had not been great for him, beaten by the standing acceleration of Raheem Sterling whom he fouled for the booking. Ziyech was brutally outpaced by Kyle Walker in one second-half moment. Mason Mount did not make the starting XI.

The one moment when City looked vulnerable came early, on 10 minutes, when Lukaku moved John Stones out of his way as if he was putting down a shopping bag and bore down on goal. It would be the only time that Chelsea managed to isolate their striker with one of the City centre-halves and perhaps Lukaku might privately have some thoughts about that. It was set for him to run through and try the shot only for him to have an ill-advised moment of generosity and try a blindside pass to Ziyech that went horribly wrong.

The second Lukaku chance came early in the second half and was something of an embarrassment for him in the end. City had fallen out of shape for a second and Mateo Kovacic set Lukaku free on goal with a very simple ball through the gaps in the home defence. It was the old duel of goalkeeper and striker and it never felt like Lukaku had a plan to deceive Ederson. The goalkeeper reached out and got a glove on the shot. Lukaku was not offered a third opportunity.

Ederson saves Romelu Lukaku's second-half effort - GETTY IMAGES
Ederson saves Romelu Lukaku's second-half effort - GETTY IMAGES

City had passed up the chances to score in the first half and frankly it was remarkable they did not lead at half-time. It was telling that even the assurance of Kovacic was not enough to prevent him being hustled off the ball by De Bruyne six minutes before the break. The ball broke to Jack Grealish who should have scored. In defence of Arrizabalaga he got a leg to it. Tuchel felt that his side were better after the break, and that they pushed higher up the pitch, although it was still seldom without the ball.

De Bruyne’s winner was the least his team deserved and testament to his great talent. No doubt that was the moment his young sons wished to emulate as they ran around the pitch afterwards in joyful pursuit of their dad. For others obliged to do the same that afternoon, it had been much less fun.

Manchester City vs Chelsea, as it happened:

03:07 PM

That's all from our coverage from the lunchtime kick off

Thank you for joining us this afternoon as Man City romp to 13 points clear at the top. Liverpool do have two games in hand, and could move within eight points of Pep's side if they win both of those, but it's hard to see City dropping enough points to allow Liverpool in.

We've just learnt that the North London derby has been postponed after the Premier League accepted Arsenal's plea over a lack of players.

We'll have coverage of the late kick off as Aston Villa host Manchester United.

02:55 PM

Pep Guardiola's on this afternoon's win and Kevin De Bruyne's contribution

Speaking with BT Sport

The team were incredible, brilliant.

We won, what we have done, we have won it together. Kevin De Bruyne is world class but humble with the humility to do everything for the team. I want more of him, because I know he can do it.

Pep Guardiola - Shutterstock
Pep Guardiola - Shutterstock

02:48 PM

Here's that goal from Kevin De Bruyne

02:42 PM

Thomas Tuchel speaks with BT Sport:

The result is disappointing, yes, but this can happen when you play at City. I think we deserved a draw, we defended very well, didn’t concede many big chances. There was one in the first half from a big mistake from us, OK.

Asked whether the title race is over:

It's not my question to answer. We will never give up, but if they keep on winning every game, no-one can catch them.

Thomas Tuchel - Shutterstock
Thomas Tuchel - Shutterstock

02:32 PM

Pep's unstoppable Manchester City

02:27 PM

Here's how the top of the table looks now

02:24 PM

FULL-TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 1-0 CHELSEA

Manchester City looked unstoppable. A moment of brilliance from Kevin De Bruyne was enough to brush aside the European Champions, but they weren't short of chances.

They're 13 points clear at the top of the league now after 22 games. Surely that's the match that all but seals the league title.

02:21 PM

90+2 mins

Kyle Walker slides a ball into Jesus in the Chelsea box, but his initial run was deemed offside.

02:19 PM

90 mins

Three minutes of added time to come.

02:18 PM

88 mins - second Man City sub

02:18 PM

88 mins

Time is running out for Chelsea here.

Mount manages to get a ball into the box to Lukaku after hustling down the right, but it comes to nothing in the end and City clear.

02:14 PM

84 mins - City sub

02:13 PM

83 mins

A lovely turn and run by Sterling on the right to get past the Chelsea defence.

He cuts it across to Foden who hits it first time on his left foot, just outside the box, but he's come onto it a bit flat and it's over Kepa's crossbar.

02:10 PM

81 mins - final Chelsea sub

02:09 PM

80 mins

Hudson-Odoi with a well-worked one-two up the left. Hudson-Odoi cuts inside and takes the shot on, but it's high and wide.

02:08 PM

78 mins

Azpilicueta with a good ball into the City box from the right. A couple of Chelsea shirts lurking in there, but Ederson reads it well and pounces on it.

Mason Mount is getting ready to enter the field.

02:03 PM

73 mins

That's De Bruyne's 74th goal for the club.

He's just gone down now, looks like he's taken a knock...

The physio's have a look, but it looks like he's fine.

02:01 PM

A couple of Chelsea subs just before that City goal

02:00 PM

69 mins GOAL MANCHESTER CITY 1-0 CHELSEA

Kevin De Bruyne! It's been coming... and it's a wonderful goal by the Belgium international!

De Bruyne gets past Azpilicueta on the left hand side, cuts inside and looks for a pass. There's no-one there for him so he opens up his body and curls it past Kepa from outside the box.

Kevin De Bruyne scores for City - Shutterstock
Kevin De Bruyne scores for City - Shutterstock

01:57 PM

67 mins

Man City in a promising position here. City break on the counter with Foden in the middle.

He spreads it to Sterling on his right, who makes it into the box and shoots, but it's just past Kepa's far right-hand post.

01:55 PM

65 mins

Chelsea corner. They've not had many of these.

Ziyech takes it, whipped into Lukaku, but it's comfortably away.

It looks Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi will be coming on shortly.

01:52 PM

61 mins

Rudiger's upended Grealish near the halfway line. City take the free kick quickly. Grealish makes his way with the ball towards the City box but is brought down by Kanté.

De Bruyne goes for the shot from the resulting free kick, onto Kepa's near side, trying to catch him out. But the Chelsea keeper reads it well and pushes it out for a corner.

01:47 PM

56 mins

A couple of City corners here, as they look to raise the pressure once again. They're two near post balls, with Azpilicueta jumping high to get it away only for City to patiently build. After an initial Chelsea spark, we're back to the first-half rhythm here.

01:44 PM

54 mins

Sterling goes down in the box, seemingly rammed by two Chelsea defenders.

But it turns out the initial ball down the right to Bernardo Silva was offside, so that penalty shout won't be examined by VAR.

01:42 PM

52 mins

City with a free kick now in a threatening position on the right, a couple of yards outside the City box.

De Bruyne chips it in towards Stones, but Kepa comfortably gathers.

01:40 PM

51 mins

Grealish with another City cross that goes begging in front of the City goalmouth. No sky blue shirt is there to get on the end of it!

01:39 PM

48 mins

Alonso has a shot of his own, just outside the City box, but it's wide of the mark.

Chelsea are looking more lively in the opening few minutes of this second half.

Mason Mount was seen doing his own warm up during the break - I think we'll see him appear in the next ten minutes or so.

01:37 PM

47 mins

Chelsea themselves come forward on the counter. Lukaku is unleashed, he shoots from just outside the box, but Ederson has come out and gets a strong hand to it. It drops to Ziyech, who lashes at it, sending it well over.

Ederson saves Lukaku's shot. - REUTERS/Peter Powell
Ederson saves Lukaku's shot. - REUTERS/Peter Powell

01:35 PM

46 mins

De Bruyne skips away from Azpilicueta, he surges down the left and gets a ball into the box. Sterling's gone down, there's a quick VAR check, but it's rightly deemed not a penalty.

01:34 PM

Second half begins

Phil Foden gets us back under way.

01:27 PM

A frustrated Thomas Tuchel in that first half...

Thomas Tuchel - Reuters/Carl Recine
Thomas Tuchel - Reuters/Carl Recine
Thomas Tuchel - REUTERS/Peter Powell 
Thomas Tuchel - REUTERS/Peter Powell
Thomas Tuchel - Tim Keeton/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Thomas Tuchel - Tim Keeton/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

01:23 PM

Half-time: MANCHESTER CITY 0-0 CHELSEA

Man City have dominated possession this first half. They've had a number of chances, coming closest when Jack Grealish was one-on-one against Kepa - but the Chelsea keeper made himself big enough to deny the England international.

Lukaku had a chance for Chelsea in the first 10 minutes, but he decided to play Ziyech through who was in an offside position - that was about it for the London side in terms of chances. Tuchel looked very animated on the touchline, and I won't be surprised if he makes a change or two quite soon into the second half.

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga makes a save from Manchester City's Jack Grealish  - Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga makes a save from Manchester City's Jack Grealish - Martin Rickett/PA Wire

01:17 PM

45 mins

Chelsea with an attacking spell of their own here, getting some momentum up the right hand side. Lukaku is waiting in the middle, making runs, but they can't get it to him.

01:15 PM

42 mins

Cancelo plays Grealish down the left, he cuts it inside to De Bruyne, who turns and hits it while he's falling away from the ball. It's well over, but another decent chance there.

01:12 PM

39 mins

Kepa with a brilliant save! Kovacic is caught out and Grealish is one-on-one - albeit under pressure - but Kepa manages to get his knee to the Englishman's shot and it's out for a corner!

01:10 PM

37 mins

De Bruyne gets the ball on the right hand side, he takes a touch and puts it across the Chelsea box as Foden and Grealish come surging in... but the flag has gone up, De Bruyne was just offside.

01:08 PM

36 mins

Another City corner coming here as Sarr sees out Sterling's effort. City take it short and it's out for a throw on the right. City go back to begin building again. They've dominated possession this first half.

01:06 PM

34 mins

Foden with a great ball across the box after driving past three Chelsea players on the left. But there's no sky blue shirt on the end of it and Alonso gathers, shrugging off a chasing Sterling.

01:05 PM

33 mins

City are forcing a few unforced errors with their relentless pressure.

Sarr the latest as he tries to play a simple pass through to Alonso, who doesn't read it and it's out for a City throw on the halfway line.

01:03 PM

30 mins

Kovacic hacks down Bernardo Silva, who would otherwise be surging towards the Chelsea box. He earns himself a yellow, Chelsea's second, and City have a a free kick in a threatening position on the left.

De Bruyne swings it in, but the Chelsea defence does enough to push it out for a City corner.

01:01 PM

28 mins

Chelsea are struggling to get the ball out with this high press from the City front three of Sterling-Foden-Grealish. The English trio are hounding the likes of Rudiger and Azpilicueta who can only clear by going long.

12:58 PM

25 mins

City are starting to get a couple of overloads now, down those left and right sides courtesy of Grealish and Sterling respectively. The Chelsea defence is still holding, and not too many scares for Kepa yet. Plenty of pressure on the men in front of him though.

12:55 PM

23 mins

City spot an opening down the left hand side past Chelsea's high line. Grealish is onto it, he cuts inside and feeds De Bruyne who is still quite wide and his shot is saved by Kepa.

12:51 PM

18 mins

Foden gets right into Kepa's face as the ball is passed back to the Chelsea keeper. It forces him to clear long and the ball's back in City's possession.

12:49 PM

16 mins

Sterling surges into the Chelsea box after cutting inside from the right, wrong-footing the Chelsea back five, but a fantastically-timed tackle by Sarr puts it behind for a City corner.

Foden takes it, but it's far too deep. Chelsea goal kick.

12:46 PM

13 mins

Man City are getting some good crosses in, putting plenty of pressure on the Chelsea defence.

At the moment, it's holding, but for how much longer?

12:44 PM

12 mins

De Bruyne comes inside, straight down the Chelsea goal line, he pulls it back, but Alonso is there to clear.

12:42 PM

9 mins

Lukaku with a storming run past Stones into the City box. It's on his left foot, but he decides to play through to Ziyech on his right who is offside. Lukaku should have gone for it himself there.

Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku (right) skips away from Manchester City's John Stones during the Premier League match at Etihad Stadium, - Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku (right) skips away from Manchester City's John Stones during the Premier League match at Etihad Stadium, - Martin Rickett/PA Wire

12:39 PM

7 mins

De Bruyne dinks in the cross, after Foden runs over the standing ball, but it's headed out of danger by Sarr.

12:38 PM

6 mins

City building now, making sure everyone gets a touch of the ball.

Sterling gets away from Alonso on the right, but is hacked down by the Spaniard. First yellow of the game there, and City with a free kick in a wide position.

12:35 PM

3 mins

Kepa has come out early after Grealish is played through with a ball over the top. He clears with his shin, straight into Azpilicueta, who has gone down in pain. City corner, but it's safely received by Kepa, who steps in for Mendy today.

12:34 PM

2 mins

Chelsea try to spread from midfield out wide over the top to Azpilicueta on the right, but he's caught just offside.

12:31 PM

Kick off!

Chelsea get us under way.

12:29 PM

The teams are out! A reminder of the line ups

Man City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Sterling, Grealish, Foden. Subs: Dias, Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus, Steffen, Fernandinho, Mbete-Tabu, McAtee, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Sarr, Thiago Silva, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso, Ziyech, Pulisic, Lukaku. Subs: Jorginho, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Bettinelli, Saul, Barkley, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Havertz.

12:26 PM

The warm ups are over... the players will be out the tunnel any moment now

Manchester City's Jack Grealish warming up before the Premier League match at Etihad Stadium - Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Jack Grealish warming up before the Premier League match at Etihad Stadium - Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Romelu Lukaku during the warm up - REUTERS/Peter Powell
Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Romelu Lukaku during the warm up - REUTERS/Peter Powell

12:21 PM

Thomas Tuchel had an incredibly successful first year at Chelsea

But, Matt Law asks whether he needs a Premier League title to go down as a great Chelsea manager.

Chelsea could cut City's lead to seven points if they win here today.

Thomas Tuchel.  - Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Thomas Tuchel. - Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

12:15 PM

A reflection here of the changing hierarchy at the top of the league over the past few years

12:13 PM

Stats time: The 50th Premier League between these two sides

City won just three of their first 25 against Chelsea (D4 L18), but have since won 12 of the last 24 (D3 L9).

The Manchester side came out on top when the two met at Stamford Bridge in September courtesy of Gabriel Jesus' second half goal.

12:02 PM

City are back at home for the first time since the 6-3 thriller against Leicester on Boxing Day

11:58 AM

Kepa is back between the sticks for Chelsea

It's only his second league start of the season as Mendy is with his Senegal teammates at the Africa Cup of Nations.

He kept a clean sheet against Spurs this week in the League Cup - and in the first leg the week before.

But it's a big ask to keep the likes of Foden and Sterling and co. at bay today.

Kepa in action away at Spurs on Wednesday. Chelsea won the game 1-0, sending them comfortably through to the League Cup final with a 3-0 aggregate win in the tie. - AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Kepa in action away at Spurs on Wednesday. Chelsea won the game 1-0, sending them comfortably through to the League Cup final with a 3-0 aggregate win in the tie. - AP Photo/Alastair Grant

11:47 AM

And here's the Chelsea starting XI

11:46 AM

The team news is in. Here's how the hosts will deploy

11:42 AM

Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport's live coverage of Man City ~ Chelsea

​Thomas Tuchel has admitted he would be left fuming if rival Premier League clubs are found to be trying to bend postponement rules.

Chelsea's request for a postponement due to seven Covid-19 cases fell on deaf ears ahead of their goalless Premier League draw at Wolves on December 19.

The Blues suffered their latest positive Covid case on Friday, with Andreas Christensen ruled out of today's league trip to runaway leaders Manchester City.

Tuchel insists Chelsea are doing everything they can to make sure their games are going ahead and hopes it is the same story elsewhere.

Asked if he thought some clubs were attempting to push the limits on postponements such as including general injuries and Africa Cup of Nations absentees, the German replied: "I strongly, strongly hope that's not the case, because otherwise I would be very, very angry.

"Because we are doing everything to make games happen. And we were made to play when we thought we should maybe not.

"So I can only strongly hope that the rules are the same for everybody."

Tuchel lamented his side's Covid issues as "like catching fish" in light of Denmark centre-back Christensen's absence for today's fixture.

The Blues had only just managed a clean coronavirus slate for Wednesday's 1-0 Carabao Cup semi-final second-leg win at Tottenham.

Thiago Silva and N'Golo Kante returned after isolation to take a seat on the bench in north London, but Chelsea only lasted two days without any Covid absentees.

Christensen had only just returned from a back injury to boost Chelsea's defensive shortages, but now faces another spell on the sidelines.

Brazilian left wing-back Kenedy is back from a loan stint at Flamengo, with Tuchel insisting the 25-year-old has a genuine opportunity to step into the first-team picture amid Ben Chilwell and Reece James' long-term injuries.

Chelsea will continue to push for Emerson Palmieri's return from loan at Lyon, but Tuchel wants to hand Kenedy a chance to impress.

PA

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