LONDON, Sept 30, (AFP): Match-winner Kevin De Bruyne came back to haunt former club Chelsea as Manchester City defeated the Premier League champions 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to reclaim top spot.
De Bruyne, who left Chelsea for Wolfsburg in January 2014, struck from outside the box midway through the second half, securing a victory that cemented City’s status as the early title favourites.
City recovered first place from Manchester United on goal difference and move six points clear of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, who were beaten at home for a second time after their shock opening-weekend loss to Burnley.
It represented a forceful return to earth for Chelsea after their excellent Champions League win at Atletico Madrid and their disappointment was compounded by an injury to prolific new striker Alvaro Morata.
Following Chelsea’s 0-0 draw against Arsenal in their previous home game, this was the first time Conte had seen one of his teams fail to score in successive games on home turf in his managerial career.
While the former Juventus boss was left to lick his wounds, opposite number Pep Guardiola could revel in a first victory over Chelsea inside 90 minutes in eight games as a manager.
City had scored 16 goals in their three previous league matches, but in successfully overwhelming the defending champions on their own patch, this was arguably their most impressive performance of the campaign to date.
The result also served to equal the club record of five consecutive top-flight away wins, matching sequences established between April and September 1912 and May to September 2015.
Following his star turn in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Atletico, Eden Hazard took his place in the Chelsea starting XI for the first time in a league fixture this season.
Conte retained the same 3-5-1-1 system he had used against Atletico and his men threatened to pick up where they had left off in the Spanish capital, Morata glancing a header wide from N’Golo Kante’s cross.
But it was to prove a false dawn as City’s aggressive pressing and probing possession play kept the champions on the back foot throughout the first half.
Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois almost embarrassed himself in the 12th minute when, after playing a one-two with Antonio Rudiger at a goal-kick, he allowed Gabriel Jesus to close him down as he assessed his passing options. Fortunately for the Belgian, after striking the advancing Jesus, the ball bounded over the crossbar for a goal-kick.
Raheem Sterling wasted a great opportunity for City when he overhit a cross with Jesus and David Silva racing into the box.
Courtois was twice called into direct action, repelling a fierce strike from Silva and then showing sharp reflexes to turn away Fernandinho’s bullet header from De Bruyne’s corner.
Chelsea were obliged to feed off scraps, particularly after Morata left the fray in the 35th minute, gesturing to his left hamstring, which saw Willian come on to form an unorthodox front two with Hazard.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Hazard worked Ederson either side of half-time, but the City goalkeeper needed only regulation saves on each occasion.
After Marcos Alonso had blocked impressively from Silva, De Bruyne broke through in the 67th minute when he exchanged passes with Jesus before steering a glorious shot inside the right-hand post with his left foot.
With four assists and nine goals, the gifted Belgian midfielder has been involved in 13 goals in his last 13 City appearances.
Jesus went close to extending the visitors’ lead when his side-foot volley was headed off the line by Rudiger.
Chelsea’s charge was late in coming and they came no nearer an equaliser than a header from Andreas Christensen in the last minute that cleared the bar comfortably.