Pep Guardiola explains surprise half-time changes against Chelsea as Manchester City boss hails Rico Lewis

Pep Guardiola’s substitutions proved crucial in Manchester City’s win over Chelsea  (AFP via Getty Images)
Pep Guardiola’s substitutions proved crucial in Manchester City’s win over Chelsea (AFP via Getty Images)

Pep Guardiola admitted his Manchester City side were a long way off their usual standards in the opening 45 minutes against Chelsea before responding after the break.

City closed to within five points of Arsenal at the top of the table as Riyad Mahrez came off the bench to score the only goal of the match in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, with Guardiola’s side taking advantage of the Gunners’ goalless draw with Newcastle.

It didn’t always look to be on the cards, with City struggling for much of the first-half and Chelsea the better side despite losing Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic to injury in the opening minutes.

City moved away from their usual shape and instead opted for Joao Cancelo on the right wing and Rodri playing in a hybrid role, switching between centre-back and midfield throughout opening period.

That didn’t work and Guardiola made two changes at the break, bringing Cancelo and Kyle Walker off for Manuel Akanji and Rico Lewis. The City boss explained the reasoning behind the starting shape after the match.

“We didn’t play good in the first-half,” Guardiola told Sky Sports.

“I admire and said thank you for his effort to Joao, playing not in his position. We decided to put a line-up with players that if they decided to play five at the back, we’d play a little bit differently.

“In the second-half we were miles, miles better in all departments. It’s a big result for us.”

Mahrez and Grealish both also came off the bench and combined for City’s goal, but it was Lewis that Guardiola was particularly effusive in his praise for after the match.

The 18-year-old had started all three of City’s games since the World Cup before dropping to the bench at Stamford Bridge, but still had a significant impact on the match.

“The last games Rico has the ability to make his mates play better,” Guardiola said.

“There are players that play for themselves really well, but he has the ability to make all the team play better.

“Every moment he does, he knows exactly what he has to do. Playing the level he did against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and especially Leeds and Liverpool and then again today, he changed the game.”