Chelsea win vs Man City leaves Champions League questions unanswered as title win delayed

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After Saturday, Manchester City are treading water in the title race and Chelsea are closing in on a top-four finish but no-one is any the wiser as to who will prevail in the Champions League final.

Chelsea have now won the last two meetings between these sides, which is some going in a season where City have been so dominant, but given the side Pep Guardiola sent out it was shadow boxing as far as the main event is concerned.

Disjointed by a team selection which seemed to be built around not giving any valuable intelligence away to Chelsea ahead of the big one, Guardiola’s radically overhauled City side were an incoherent mix.

Only when Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan were introduced for the last 20 minutes did they begin to resemble the force which has dominated the Premier League this season.

But the regularly-shredded right-hand flank of their rejigged defence remained vulnerable and when it was unpicked for the umpteenth time in injury time Marco Alonso did the rest.

An unlikely hero for an altogether strange affair.

Guardiola’s pre-match insistence that this game was the only show in town turned out to be a sleight of hand from the City manager.

Pulling out most of his likely starters for Istanbul – or wherever the final ends up being played – and changing the side’s shape entirely turned out to be a short-term own goal which he will hope has no long-term consequences.

The theory was that if his reserves could pull off the win against Chelsea that would decide the league, well that was a bonus, but Thomas Tuchel would not be leaving the Etihad with anything useful for his dossier.

For a manager who loves a midfielder, selecting just one specialist in Rodri for this game and using Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres as fish-out-water assistants was an interesting curveball.

For Sterling – the captain for the day – it at least meant a starting shirt after the frustrations of losing his place of late.

The ball that was once on a string for him now seems to be on a spring as he searches for form. He repeatedly overran the ball here.

The 12th minute booking for a lunge at Timo Werner after he had lost possession was one of a series of unforced errors which began when he knocked his first attempted pass to Nathan Ake directly into touch.

A goal is a goal though and yesterday’s was his first since February. Jesus put the ball on a plate for Aguero who miscontrolled it and Sterling almost ended up tackling his teammate to put the ball into the gaping net.

The Keystone Cops element to the finish rather summed up City and quite how they fashioned a one-goal lead at the interval which would have been two but for Sergio Aguero’s puffball penalty was a mystery.

It wasn’t enough to cover the cracks which Chelsea exposed after the break.

The goal took Sterling into double figures in the Premier League – a mark he had reached by December last season.

The hope must be for Gareth Southgate will be that it will trigger an end-of-season goal rush that will restore the confidence that has dwindled as the season has worn on in time for the Euros.

Sterling is an England staple and Southgate would have had him inked in six months ago but there must be some hesitancy after recent weeks.

As for the title race, it is still alive – but maybe not for long.

City’s sole remaining title rivals Manchester United will have played three more games before Guardiola’s men are next in action against Newcastle. So the title could come their way today, on Tuesday or on Thursday.

It does not matter to City how a fifth title in a decade arrives as long as it does but it was a miskick not to at least give it a proper shot to wrap it up on their home turf through their own efforts.



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