Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel was left to reflect on what might have been after the Blues were narrowly beaten by Manchester City on Saturday afternoon. The hosts were denied a fourth successive win over their opponents having beaten City in last year’s Champions League final, with Gabriel Jesus firing home the all-important winner shortly after half-time in west London.
The stage was firmly set at Stamford Bridge for what has emerged as one of the highest-profile clashes in English football in recent years.
It looked to be the story of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, with City defending their Premier League crown and Chelsea having already taken the lead in this season’s race for glory.
Despite the latter’s fast start to the campaign, City managed to seal an important victory and return to the summit with an effective and highly organised performance against the European champions.
However, there were still a number of positives for Chelsea, who look set to battle Pep Guardiola’s side for domestic glory until the very last day of the campaign.
City dominated possession early on but struggled to create any meaningful chances against the might of Chelsea’s rock-solid back five.
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Cesar Azpilicueta was at the heart of his side’s defensive efforts and needed to deliver a captain’s performance to give the Blues the best chance of a positive result.
The Spaniard duly obliged upon his return to a central role from right wing-back, working in tandem with Reece James and Thiago Silva to nullify Jack Grealish with relative ease.
He also worked tirelessly in possession to help Chelsea play around City’s relentless pressing game and attempt to move the ball away from their final third.
Azpilicueta returned to the right-hand side when James was forced off with an early knock, with his impressive versatility and leadership by example likely to play a crucial role in assisting Chelsea’s title bid this season.
Chelsea were only able to create a handful of chances against City, but Timo Werner managed to catch the eye on the few occasions he was released into space.
The Blues struggled to manage the transition between defence and attack at times, but the German forward proved to be quite the handful when he was called into action.
He was deployed in a two-up-top partnership with Romelu Lukaku and looked far more threatening alongside the Belgian than he has done in a supporting role behind the lone striker.
Werner has failed to hit the ground running with Chelsea since joining the club last summer, but he was only let down on Saturday by a lack of support from his attacking team-mates.
The former RB Leipzig man could be primed to emerge as a real asset for the Blues this season if Tuchel decides to field two strikers on a regular basis.
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His side were ultimately left to chase the game after City’s second-half opener, but the introduction of Kai Havertz immediately helped to up the tempo.
He replaced Kante on the hour mark and came close to setting up Lukaku within minutes of coming on before the goal was quickly ruled out for offside.
The Blues might have stood a better chance of winning the match if Havertz was selected to play from the off, and the forward’s ability to make things happen under pressure is likely to come in handy against their other Premier League title rivals over the rest of the season.
Although the result against City will feel like a crushing blow to Chelsea, titles are never decided at this early stage and there is still plenty of time to get their hands on the coveted trophy once all has been said and done.
There were plenty of silver linings for the European champions despite Saturday’s defeat and they will be champing at the bit to put things right against Southampton in their next Premier League outing after the dust has settled.