Manchester City produced an impressive display to end Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season with a deserved 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
In the meeting between two sides fully expected to fight it out for this season’s Premier League title, the reigning champions dominated against a strangely passive and conservative Chelsea.
Manchester City’s start to the season has been mixed in some respects but this was the champions back to their best and letting one of their main title rivals know they will not give up their crown lightly.
Pep Guardiola’s side were on the front foot from the first whistle as Chelsea seemed reluctant to commit to attack, the only complaint about their first-half supremacy being an inability to create clear opportunities despite their domination of possession.
All that changed after the break and Gabriel Jesus made the decisive contribution.
Jesus settled a tight affair when his 53rd-minute effort in a packed penalty area took that vital touch off Jorginho to leave Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy motionless and beaten.
It was a deserved reward for the Brazilian striker, who took a real buffeting at the hands of Chelsea’s defence, particularly Antonio Rudiger, but took the knocks without complaint and ended up being the match-winner.
Jesus almost added a second when Thiago Silva cleared his effort off the line while Aymeric Laporte should have scored but somehow slid a shot wide from inside the six-yard box.
Guardiola cut an increasingly agitated figure as the minutes ticked down, presumably because City had failed to finish off Chelsea despite controlling all aspects of the game. The chances came and went, Mendy made saves to keep Chelsea alive, but in the end all was well that ended well for City.
Mendy also produced two crucial saves from the excellent Jack Grealish.
Grealish wears his £100m price tag lightly, playing with freedom and a smile on his face. He could have had two goals – and certainly should have had one when Mendy saved at his feet – and created opportunities for others.
Few could question City’s right to the win against the team who beat them in last May’s Champions League final, and the victory margin should have been far more emphatic. This was a performance with few flaws apart from that lack of ruthlessness, with Laporte and Ruben Dias in total command at the heart of defence, Kevin de Bruyne adding flourishes in midfield and Grealish prompting throughout.
It was the perfect start to a crucial week for City and manager Pep Guardiola as they prepare to visit Paris St-Germain in the Champions League this week then take on Liverpool at Anfield next Sunday.
Elsewhere, Bruno Fernandes missed a 93rd-minute penalty as Aston Villa won at Old Trafford for the first time in 12 years in a pulsating match.
Kortney Hause had put Villa ahead with a powerful header two minutes from the end of normal time before the defender handled inside the box to present United with a lifeline.
However, Fernandes blazed over high over the bar in front of the Stretford End as United’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season came to an end.
Having suffered an early Carabao Cup exit at home to West Ham, United have lost their past two games without scoring.
Villa missed two big chances before a dramatic finale.
After Matt Targett blazed over inside the six-yard area, Ollie Watkins could only fire at David de Gea after the United keeper had passed straight to the Villa forward following Harry Maguire’s backpass.
In a thrilling game, Ezri Konsa also headed another chance over after beating Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the air, while Watkins was denied by De Gea at full stretch in the second half.
At the other end, Emiliano Martinez kept out Maguire’s header and Paul Pogba nodded wide when the France midfielder should have scored.
It capped a bitterly frustrating day for United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who suddenly find themselves under pressure before Villarreal’s Champions League visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Solskjaer is expected to deliver trophies this season after a busy – and expensive – summer in the transfer market.
With one avenue closed in the EFL Cup, they need to bounce back and beat Villarreal after losing their first group game against Young Boys.
Additional reporting from BBC