LONDON – Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City beat champions Chelsea 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium yesterday to extend their lead to 18 points and leave the London side further adrift from the Champions League qualification spots.
After Chelsea’s defensive approach resulted in a first-half stalemate, City went ahead 33 seconds into the second period when Bernardo Silva turned in a low cross from David Silva.
Chelsea have now lost four of their last five Premier League games and are in fifth place, five points behind Tottenham Hotspur who occupy the fourth Champions League spot.
City’s lead could be cut by third-placed Manchester United, who play Crystal Palace today, but the mathematics appear a mere formality now with Pep Guardiola’s side having won their last 14 home games.
It was not a classic game with Chelsea showing little ambition and City happy to play within themselves for large stretches, but that was perhaps a consequence of a title race that has effectively been over for months.
Still Chelsea hardly approached the game like a team who needed points to get back in contention to qualify for Europe’s elite competition.
Antonio Conte left both Chelsea’s recognised strikers - Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud - on the bench and opted to play winger Eden Hazard as a lone striker.
The Londoners defended deep and in numbers from the outset but, missing the tenacity of the absent N’Golo Kante showed little willingness to press in midfield and the result was a first half dominated by City possession but with few openings.
City, who had played Arsenal on Thursday, lacked their usual sharpness in midfield although they went close to an opener when a deep cross from Kevin De Bruyne was brilliantly taken down by Leroy Sane but the German’s goalbound shot was cleared off the line by Cesar Azpilicueta.
Nicolas Otamendi put the ball in the net for City, after Sergio Aguero had hooked on a quick free kick but the effort was ruled out for offside and the teams went in for halftime with a disappointing game scoreless.
It took just 33 seconds of the second half for that to change, however, Aguero finding David Silva on the left and the Spaniard’s low cross was turned in at the back post by Bernardo Silva.
If Chelsea fans expected that goal to force a change of approach from Conte they were disappointed as they had to wait until the 78th minute for Giroud to be brought on for Willian.
But neither the French forward nor Morata, who came on in the final minute, made an impact with only an optimistic effort from Marcos Alonso in stoppage-time which flew wide troubling City’s underworked defence.
City completed 902 passes, more than any other team in a single league match since 2003-04 when such statistics were first officially recorded.
Meanwhile, Arsenal lost 2-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion yesterday, a fourth successive defeat in all competitions for the London club which intensified the pressure on manager Arsene Wenger.
After a bright start from the visitors, Lewis Dunk volleyed in to give the home side the lead - ensuring Arsenal’s run without a Premier League clean sheet stretched to 11 games - their longest since February 2002.
Glenn Murray’s fifth goal in as many league games made it 2-0 after 26 minutes, before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled a goal back for Arsenal two minutes before halftime.