Manchester City’s class killed off Chelsea in the second half on a night when Jack Grealish shone and Gareth Southgate was heartened by a 41-minute run-out for Kalvin Phillips that more than doubled his game-time for the season on the eve of the England manager announcing his World Cup squad.
City deserved to win and the “magnificent” display from Grealish – as characterised by Pep Guardiola – is a welcome augury for the Three Lions’ hopes in Qatar. Phillips, like the winger, can hope to be in the 26-man party after recovering from a dislocated shoulder.
Phillips said: “It’s an amazing feeling. I’m glad to get back out there and play with the lads. Not so much [been speaking to] Gareth. I spoke to the [his] staff and physios checking on my progress.
“A couple of days after the operation my thought was to do as much as I could to get fit. I did more sessions than I would have done to get my fitness back.
“Without playing for a while, it’s nerve-racking stepping on to the pitch for one of my first appearances for the club. With my injuries I’ve not been playing 100% because of my shoulder. Now it’s sorted I can get back to what I was before. Hopefully it’ll put me in good stead.”
Guardiola said: “Kalvin made a good 40 minutes. He didn’t play for a long time and played with incredible personality. Of course, he has to get used to some things which are normal for playing.”
For Graham Potter the defeat means Chelsea have only two wins in their past seven games and the end of their chances in one competition they would hope to win. The manager takes Chelsea to a resurgent Newcastle on Saturday in need of victory.
He said: “I’m always concerned when we don’t get results. Our performances haven’t been what we wanted in the last couple of games. But today is what we wanted the team to look like. Overall there were quite a few positives – it was a step forward for us.”
After a blue-themed laser show before kick-off, those in the lighter shade took their customary possession of the ball and invited those wearing a darker hue to chase it, as a slaloming Grealish run ended in the winger going down hurt before recovering.
Further City pressure came via Grealish and Sergio Gómez, whose cross skimmed way past Édouard Mendy to the right wing. When Stefan Ortega had a clearance to make, Chelsea stood as high as his 18-yard line but City passed through them.
In a flash Gómez located Julián Álvarez whose flick released the effervescent Grealish. Another burst and he teed up Álvarez and when play broke it was the England man, again, who fired wide from range.
There was a pleasing zip to the contest that had Christian Pulisic foraging forward, then City racing to the other end and Cole Palmer shooting into Mendy’s hands. Pace and power featured when Armando Broja knocked over Rúben Dias – illegally – and the imperious Grealish was upended by Kalidou Koulibaly.
The roll-call of chances was added to by an Álvarez attempt leading to the tie’s eighth corner, Rico Lewis’s quickfire ball demanding a finisher, and Chelsea’s Lewis Hall spurning a gilded opening he engineered.
A Broja squeeze on Ortega – the City goalkeeper just about managed to clear – signalled the second stanza might be as vibrant as the opener: this was confirmed after Álvarez picked Mateo Kovacic’s pocket and Marc Cucurella had to challenge Riyad Mahrez to recover.
Now, Bernardo Silva replaced Ilkay Gündogan and Phillips entered for Rodri as Grealish – twice – forced Mendy into saves, before City took the lead. Trevoh Chalobah’s foul on Mahrez gave the Algerian a chance to float in a free-kick – the ball may have flicked Broja in the wall, as Mendy was beaten to his left.
Chelsea’s response featured a Hakim Ziyech cross-cum-shot that Ortega palmed for a corner from which Ziyech then blazed wide.
City’s second was created and finished by Álvarez as Grealish tapped to the striker who dropped a 40-yard cross-field pass on to Mahrez’s toe. The No 26 jinked on to his left foot and Mendy saved low only to see the predatory Álvarez following up.
From this juncture, it was a long way back for Chelsea. They nearly made it halfway when Ziyech out-foxed Gómez and laid the ball to Hall but the youngster – who turned 18 in September – scuffed the shot and Ortega tipped away.