Manchester City were “fantastic” despite suffering a first Premier League defeat of the season at Chelsea, said manager Pep Guardiola.
Chelsea bounced back from the disappointment of losing at Wolves in midweek to end City’s 21-game unbeaten league run stretching back to April, and a sequence of 14 unbeaten games away from home.
The defending champions paid for a lack of ruthlessness as they dominated the first half, only to be struck by a smash-and-grab right on half-time as N’Golo Kante fired high past Ederson from Eden Hazard’s pass.
Chelsea gained confidence and momentum and improved after the break, securing the win with 12 minutes left when David Luiz’s glancing header following a corner bounced in off the far post.
They closed out the win to give Sarri his first triumph over Guardiola, whose team are replaced at the top of the table by Liverpool.
Despite slipping a point behind the Reds, the Spaniard rejected the notion his team had an “off day”.
“If you think that, you didn’t see the game,” he told BBC Sport. “In the first half, we were exceptional.
“In general, we were fantastic. I don’t have any regrets. We came and showed we wanted to win. We created chances. They had one in 44 minutes and we conceded a goal. Sometimes that happens.
“It is emotional for me to see these players do what they do every three days. We were outstanding except for five to eight minutes.”
City pay for lacking killer touch
City’s multi-talented squad can cover almost all eventualities, but this was a game in which they sorely missed the marksmanship of the injured Sergio Aguero, and also Kevin de Bruyne’s creation.
Guardiola’s side were on another level to Chelsea for the first 44 minutes but when chances presented themselves, as they did to both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, there was either hesitation or an inability to provide the final product that proved crucial.
This is not a criticism of either Sterling or Sane but there was a lingering feeling that had the same opportunities fallen to the predatory Aguero, the outcome would have been different.
City could not recover from Kante’s sucker punch, and it was Chelsea who were the more dangerous side in the second half.
Guardiola’s men must now regroup after a defeat that will be a major disappointment but one hardly likely to set them back for too long.
Kante proves Sarri’s point
Kante’s outstanding performance, including the opening goal, was vindication for Sarri’s decision to play him in a new role this season.
Sarri has been questioned for his decision to use Jorginho as the hub of his team while pushing Kante into a more advanced role out on the right – why have the player many regard as the finest holding midfield player in world football and not utilise him there?
Sarri has stuck to his guns and this was a game – and performance by Kante – that added significant weight to his argument.
The World Cup winner was magnificent, typically tireless but also getting into forward positions, most decisively when he arrived on the end of Hazard’s inviting pass to power a finish past Ederson that gave the Brazilian no chance.
It is certainly not the end of the argument, but evidence Sarri can use that he is coming up with the right formula.