Manchester City impressively overcame the absence of key first-team players due to coronavirus as they eased to a 3-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Pep Guardiola’s side had their game at Everton postponed earlier this week due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club, one that left them without six squad members for their first match of 2021.
But City, who handed a league debut to goalkeeper Zack Steffen, were three up inside 34 minutes thanks to strikes from Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and star of the show Kevin De Bruyne.
Callum Hudson-Odoi scored a late consolation for Chelsea but that was the only disappointment for the visitors, who made it three league wins in a row to move up to fifth in the table, within four points of top spot with a game in hand. Chelsea, meanwhile, remain down in eighth position.
City started without a recognised striker and it was Gundogan who was in the most advanced position when turning away from Thiago Silva to fire past Edouard Mendy for the opener.
A second goal followed for Guardiola’s side 157 seconds later, Foden sweeping home De Bruyne’s low cross at the front post following a poor sliding clearance from Silva in the build-up.
De Bruyne rounded off a swift counter that he started near his own box for City’s third, the playmaker converting from close range after Raheem Sterling’s shot came back off the post.
Gundogan went close to doubling his tally with a smart flick that drifted inches wide of the far post and Rodri’s header was well saved by Mendy after half-time as City pushed for a fourth.
They could not quite hold on for a sixth clean sheet in seven league outings, however, as Hudson-Odoi converted fellow substitute Kai Havertz’s delivery at the back post from the final meaningful act of the match.
Guardiola may have been missing a few but he made full use of his squad depth – and totally outsmarted opposite number Frank Lampard with his tactical plan.
It was hard to work out exactly who was leading the line for City at times, Sterling, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne all popping up through the middle and terrorising the experienced duo of Silva and N’Golo Kante.
The damage was done in a first half that saw Chelsea concede three times before the interval in a Premier League game for the second time this season, the hosts’ late response doing little to repair their damaged morale – they have now registered just one win in six league games.
City have an EFL Cup semi-final trip to Manchester United on Wednesday, while Chelsea will be desperate to put this loss behind them when they take on fourth-tier opposition Morecambe in the FA Cup third round next Sunday.
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