JUST as Graham Potter was running out of players, Pep Guardiola turned to his bench and spotted the most expensive English footballer in history and a former PFA Player of the Year.

And three minutes later, Jack Grealish had set up Riyad Mahrez to clinch victory over a mid-table, injury-ravaged Chelsea

Riyad Mahrez tapped home Jack Grealish's cross for the winner

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Riyad Mahrez tapped home Jack Grealish’s cross for the winnerCredit: Getty
Mahrez scored his first Premier League goal since October

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Mahrez scored his first Premier League goal since OctoberCredit: Getty
City were much improved after the break

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City were much improved after the breakCredit: Reuters

City are now back to within five points of leaders Arsenal, even without playing well and even after Pep Guardiola had produced one of his abstract Jackson Pollock team-sheets. 

This was a curious sort of game – City, hunting a third straight title, were often sloppy, Chelsea, with their ever-expanding injury list, were pretty good. 

Yet as Potter surveyed a defeat that left his side with just one win from eight Premier League games, he must have wondered when his luck was going to change. 

Mason Mount had been injured in training on the eve of this match, then Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic pulled up lame inside the first 20 minutes. 

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And after Grealish and Mahrez had made their decisive arrivals, Potter was left to bring on the teenage duo of Lewis Hall and debutant Omari Hutchinson.  

By the end, it was men against boys. Yet the boys were better for long stretches of the match.  

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was hooked, having been brought on as an early sub.

And it all left you thinking, however bad the luck Chelsea are having with injuries, that there has been some very muddled thinking in the early part of Todd Boehly’s reign. 

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City were nowhere near their best yet still managed to notch up the sort of away win on which title triumphs are so often defined by.  

Guardiola will consider that five-point deficit to be trivial, especially when City have to play Arsenal twice. 

They do not, though, possess the irresistibility of so many previous seasons. Erling Haaland may be a goal machine but, as a whole, City aren’t at their peak.

Chelsea rocked up here as the fifth best team in London, the third best team in West London and the second best team in Fulham and there was precious little pre-match optimism around the Bridge. 

City, though, had been in patchy form too – beaten at home by Brentford before the World Cup and unable to beat the worst Everton team in living memory at the Etihad last weekend. 

The game was less than three minutes old when Sterling, up against the club where he won four titles, slumped to the ground and was forced to hobble off – leaving Chelsea somewhere close to what Harry Redknapp used to call the “bare bones”.

Aubameyang replaced Sterling but despite their depleted ranks, the hosts were shading the early exchanges. 

Marc Cucurella won a storming challenge to rob Joao Cancelo but when Pulisic was released, John Stones produced a forceful saving tackle. 

Needless to say, the American winger was also forced off, teenager Carney Chukwuemeka replacing him. 

Still, though, City were struggling to make any headway and Chelsea were the sharper side. 

Guardiola doesn’t do formations in the way mortals set them out, but this was a particularly unusual set-up – Cancelo and Phil Foden on the flanks, Kyle Walker in a back three, but Rodri popping back to make a four when City needed it. 

If this had been a Champions League knock-out game we’d accuse him of over-thinking it.

Still, eight minutes before half-time, the champions woke up… Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan sneaking their way through the Chelsea midfield, the latter slipping a pass to Haaland.

The Norwegian had scored more Premier League goals than Chelsea this season but he’d been so quiet we’d forgotten about him.

Then that blond man-bun emerged like a dorsal fin in the shallow end, Haaland darting forward yet pinging his shot wide.   

Pep Guardiola's men closed the gap on Arsenal to five points

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Pep Guardiola’s men closed the gap on Arsenal to five pointsCredit: EPA

Just as City began to dictate things, Chelsea broke and Chukwuemeka drilled a shot which took a slight deflection off Walker and on to the post.

Cancelo, usually employed at left-back but a right winger here after a Guardiola brainstorm, sent one wildly off-target and at half-time, the City boss hooked him along with Walker, sending on Manuel Akanji and young Rico Lewis.

Haaland was soon firing wide again, this time after Aubameyang dropped deep and duffed a pass.

There was more conviction and intensity about City now, a Kevin De Bruyne centre headed against the bar by Nathan Ake, then the Belgian himself stinging the palms of Kepa Arrizabalaga. 

Chelsea, though, were still in it. Mateo Kovacic was pulling strings, Kai Havertz subtly intelligent and Thiago Silva was whistling a shot narrowly wide. 

Bernardo taunted Cucurella down the City right but when he teed up De Bruyne, the Belgian lashed well wide.

Guardiola sent for Grealish and Mahrez in place of Bernardo and Foden and the double-change paid off swiftly. 

City worked the ball from right to left, Grealish turned a shapely calf and centred low to the back post where Mahrez beat a meandering Cucurella and a strangely passive Kepa to score. 

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Potter sent on his kids and his side pinned back the champions late on, Hall racing down the left to shoot narrowly over. 

Glorious defeats don’t mean much at a club which won so much under Roman Abramovich but this was a glorious defeat, all right. 



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