Chelsea turned on the style and gave Manchester City a footballing lesson in a dramatic and utterly unexpected victory at the Bridge as the reigning champions stumbled and fell.
Few in the 40,571 were expecting a Blues win ahead of this 5.30pm kick-off match on Saturday, especially as Chelsea had lost two of their last three league games.
But Chelsea have always surprised down the years – in good ways and bad ways. Games that on paper look a breeze often turn into nightmares, and matches that seem out of reach sometimes inspire the boys in royal blue to play out of their skin.
With no weak links for Pep Guardiola’s men to exploit, this was a prime example of the latter.
Both sides lined up without a recognised front man, with Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro providing a mobile, ever-changing threesome up front – probably the smallest attacking line in the Premier League. City gave Raheem Sterling licence to cause trouble, but the Blues defence proved up to the task, even though City had the lion’s share of the first half.
It ended with a goal against the run of play as Hazard squared from the left and N’Golo Kante – a player who usually troubles Row Z with his shots – fired into the roof of Ederson’s net. That strike, in the 44th minute, was his first since the opening day of the season at Huddersfield.
As the rain began falling in the second half, City won corner after corner – seven in under 20 minutes – but couldn’t get the ball past Kepa.
Sub Ross Barkley had a pop in the 76th minute, but the ball was pushed wide for a Chelsea corner. Eden Hazard floated the ball over, David Luiz got his corkscrew hair to it, and it looped over Ederson for the Blues’ second.
The will and belief visibly sapped out of City in the dying minutes and their usually boisterous fans stared in silence at the unfolding spectacle.
A cold, damp afternoon turned into a memorable early evening, with the cheers in SW6 echoed on Merseyside, where Liverpool’s title dreams were given a huge boost.
From Kepa to Tony Rudiger, Luiz to Jorginho, Marcos Alonso to Kante, Pedro to Mateo Kovacic, Willian to Cesar Azpilicueta and Hazard to subs Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, every Chelsea player raised their performance after the dismal midweek defeat to Wolves, and kept alive hopes that this could yet be a gleaming debut Premier League season for Morrie Sarri, whose tactical nous just gained a few new admirers.