It’s a measure of how far Chelsea have come in the past nine months that instead of losing 6-0 to a rampant Manchester City, they ran the hosts close at the Etihad, taking the lead and matching Pep’s men every step of the way.
That February defeat, pictured, still haunts fans, but Saturday’s result – though still disappointing – was always going to be tighter.
For spells in the first half, the Blues were really the dominant force. If it hadn’t been for the magical skills of that pesky Old Boy Mr Kevin de Bruyne, this could have been a draw or even a Chelsea victory.
But Frank Lampard can take heart from this performance. Although a defeat hurts when you’ve won seven away games on the spin, Chelsea’s passing, intensity and skills – notably from Willian and N’Golo Kante (who opened the scoring) – were, at times, dazzling.
It was end-to-end stuff for much of the match, with rapid attacks and counters, but ultimately City’s maturity won through, and the second half turned into an exercise in containment for the champions as the minutes ticked away.
Had it not been for a very tight VAR call, City could have been 3-1 victors at the death, as Raheem Sterling’s seemingly valid late breakaway ‘goal’ was ruled out.
De Bruyne levelled for City, after his shot ricocheted off Kurt Zouma to beat Kepa Arrizabalaga. Then Riyad Mahrez, with an impressive solo effort, gave City a lead they never reliquished.
Pep Guardiola described Chelsea afterwards as “an incredible team”. All very flattering, but defeat still stings for the Blues.
Lampard said that his young side played “some great stuff”, and felt in control for stretches. He added: “It was bad luck for their first goal, and absolute quality from Riyad Mahrez for the second, and that changed the game.
“Maybe we were a bit slow with our movement at the back. I know we were giving them a good game, but I am disappointed with the small details. If you look at City they are an example, and we’re at the absolute start of that process. A few of our players were in the Championship last season, but we want more.”
‘More’ will come soon enough. Chelsea fly to Spain to play Valencia in midweek, before coming back to host West Ham at the Bridge next weekend.