Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel expressed his frustration at Romelu Lukaku after Kevin De Bruyne’s brilliant attack defeated the Blues 1-0 to open a 13-point lead at the head of the table. A tale of two Belgium internationals saw Lukaku turn down an opportunity to silence his critics early in the second half before De Bruyne produced the only outstanding moment of quality in the game by curling home from outside the box. A 12th consecutive win for the champions strengthens City’s grip on the title race as they head for a fourth league title in five seasons.
Chelsea beat Pep Guardiola’s men in last season’s Champions League final, but securing their place in the top European club competition next season now looks like the pinnacle of their ambitions for the rest of the Premier League season.
The Blues remain second, but have won only one of their last six league games.
“Our attacking players have to show more. We need consistency. Chelsea is not a place to hide,” said Tuchel.
Lukaku had to be the last piece it took to turn the European champions into long-term challengers to City’s title.
But he has only scored twice in his last 11 league games on either side of being dropped for expressing his dismay at how the season has gone since Inter Milan’s club record £98million to Italian media.
And Tuchel rejected suggestions that the striker is out of service.
“Sometimes he has to do the trick,” the German added. “He had a lot of ball loss without any pressure. He had a great chance.
“Of course we want to be of service to him, but the performance in the front we have to do much better.”
City dominated possession throughout, but struggled to open a makeshift Chelsea defense with second-choice goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and Malang Sarr in his second Premier League appearance.
“We can’t forget who we played against, they are European champions and what an incredible team they are,” said Guardiola. “They defended well, they waited for the transition to punish us and we won one transition.”
– Knockout blow –
City’s only chance for half-time came from a Chelsea error.
Mateo Kovacic’s pass was deflected from De Bruyne in the path of Jack Grealish, but the most expensive England player of all time missed the opportunity to mark his greatest moment as a City player yet when his shot was saved by Arrizabalaga.
Lukaku has had a similarly disappointing impact on Grealish.
He had a chance to kickstart his season and the title race when he was picked by Kovacic, but Ederson raced off target and made a fine save low to his right.
A top-of-the-table clash lacked the accompanying atmosphere for most of the game against an understated Etihad.
However, the crowd was roused by a moment of brilliance when De Bruyne dealt the decisive blow in the title race.
He held off N’Golo Kante’s challenge to turn on Joao Cancelo’s pass before snapping the bottom left corner of Arrizabalaga’s net.
“I came from Kante at the right time. I looked at the space and they fell off, I found the corner and it worked perfectly,” said De Bruyne.
Chelsea couldn’t answer as they chased City shadows.
Liverpool can narrow the gap at the top to eight points if they win their two games in hand, but only a collapse will now fail City to retain the title.
“Twelve wins in a row is incredible, so we have to keep going,” added Guardiola.
“My job is to get out of the players’ minds what people will say. We are more than happy, but there is still a lot of work to do.”
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