Manchester City beat Chelsea 13 points ahead at the top of the Premier League after the De Bruyne goal

In the away section behind one of the goals at The Etihad, silverware occasionally glistened in winter sunshine. The Chelsea fans, spread over three levels, resolutely held replicas of the Champions League trophy, which many brought with them from London, and waved them as a reminder of their victory over Manchester City in the final in Porto last May.

‘Where’s your Europa Cup?’ they sang, again and again, and they took their consolation there. Because history is all they have at the moment. After this defeat to Pep Guardiola’s side, it is clearer than ever that the present belongs to City.

Their 1-0 win took them 13 points ahead of Chelsea and the rest of the increasingly abandoned chase pack and within sight to retain their title. This had felt like the last chance to stop City’s march towards winning the league and Chelsea could not put a glove on them.

Kevin De Bruyne struck home the decisive goal with 20 minutes left as Manchester City moved 13 points ahead at the summit

De Bruyne drove into the heart of the Chelsea defense and then dug a curling effort from 25 yards to settle the competition

De Bruyne drove into the heart of the Chelsea defense and then dug a curling effort from 25 yards to settle the competition

That proved to be enough to bring Manchester City 13 points ahead of Chelsea at the top, even though Liverpool have matches in hand

That proved to be enough to bring Manchester City 13 points ahead of Chelsea at the top, even though Liverpool have matches in hand

City manager Pep Guardiola gives the thumbs up during a performance of class and control at the Etihad Stadium

City manager Pep Guardiola gives the thumbs up during a performance of class and control at the Etihad Stadium

Kevin de Bruyne scored the winner 20 minutes from the end and it was a fine goal that could characterize a great performance. City was the best side by far. If Jose Mourinho had still been in charge of Chelsea, he would have been accused of parking the bus with this achievement, but against a team as good as City, it is difficult to find a bus that is big enough.

This was City’s 12th league victory in a row, a race that has defied Covid’s ravages and pressure during the holiday period. The city just marches by and by and by. The deterrent reality for their rivals is that they seem to be getting better and better and better.

Their manager, Thomas Tuchel, could have created three wins over City last season, but in this meeting, the gap in quality between the two sides was impossible to hide.

Instead of looking upwards, Chelsea may now have to start looking nervously over their shoulders as Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham and Manchester United try to rein them in.

They had a clear chance against City’s sparse defense, but Romelu Lukaku could not take it. They advanced to the final of the Carabao Cup last week and it looks like the knockout competitions are once again their best chance of success this season.

City goalkeeper Ederson dismissed Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku early in the second half, but the visitors were second best

City goalkeeper Ederson dismissed Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku early in the second half, but the visitors were second best

City could have led late in the first half, but Jack Grealish was rejected by a great save by Kepa Arrizabalaga

City could have led late in the first half, but Jack Grealish was rejected by a great save by Kepa Arrizabalaga

It had been an opening period with few clear chances, but Grealish should have done better as he closed in on goal

It had been an opening period with few clear chances, but Grealish should have done better as he closed in on goal

City boss Pep Guardiola made a host of changes from the team that had beaten Swindon Town in the FA Cup third round and included Jack Grealish to the left of City’s floating front three. Grealish has had an uneven time since his arrival at £ 100m. from Aston Villa this summer, and his recall in a match of this magnitude was a chance to come up with a belated opinion.

Instead, most of City’s attacks went down to the right, with Raheem Sterling giving Marcos Alonso a fierce time, especially after Alonso had been warned early on for committing him. On the other flank, Grealish struggled in vain to gain influence, his stopping effort preventing the formidable combination of Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta. All too often he ran up blind alleys.

Chelsea had a hard time gaining a foothold in the match. They could not get the ball, and in the rare cases they could not keep it. Tuchel appeared to be particularly annoyed by the contribution of Lukaku, whose interventions in the action were sporadic.

Lukaku has been rehabilitated by Tuchel after his controversial interview with Sky Italia, but the relationship between manager and center-forward still seems troubled. Time and time again, Tuchel jumped from the excavation to protest with Lukaku, spreading his arms wide and looking for an explanation as to why he had misplaced a pass or given possession. Lukaku did his best to ignore him.

There was an early moment of panic for Chelsea as Kepa blared his clearing against Cesar Azpilicueta

There was an early moment of panic for Chelsea as Kepa blared his clearing against Cesar Azpilicueta

Romelu Lukaku runs away from John Stones, but the Belgian chose to pass to Hakim Ziyech instead of going for goal

Romelu Lukaku runs away from John Stones, but the Belgian chose to pass to Hakim Ziyech instead of going for goal

However, Lukaku was responsible for one of the only half chances in the first 45 minutes. He took the ball midway through the City half with his back to goal and bullied himself past John Stones’ wrestling.

But as he advanced on goal, there was another clue that Lukaku still lacks confidence. Instead of shooting, he tried to play in Hakim Ziyech with a reverse pass. The pass was wrong and Ziyech was offside anyway. A rare opportunity had been wasted.

When Ziyech returned a few minutes later by hitting a breakthrough ball that would have freed Lukaku, Tuchel exploded out of his dugout again, inconsolable over the waste. It was hard to blame him. City were so dominant in all areas that it was hard not to wonder when a Chelsea chance would come again.

Despite all their superiority, City also struggled to create clear chances, but Chelsea began to look exhausted from the chase and demoralized by City’s dominance.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling tries to break away from the Chelsea defense during his team's victory at the Etihad

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling tries to break away from the Chelsea defense during his team’s victory at the Etihad

De Bruyne receives a warm embrace from his manager Pep Guardiola as he is being replaced late in the match

De Bruyne receives a warm embrace from his manager Pep Guardiola as he is being replaced late in the match

Finally, five minutes before half-time, it looked like City were going to break through when Kevin de Bruyne resigned Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the Chelsea area. Where Grealish was waiting and volleyed it in off the bar … what a finish that was, well worth watching match of the day for!

There were several chances after the break. De Bruyne slid a ball across the Chelsea field and Sterling appeared to have come ahead of his marker in the race to face it as he went down. The referee rejected the claim for a penalty kick. A minute later Chelsea broke through and Kovacic played Lukaku into goal.

Lukaku has yet to score against a top-six club this season and this was his chance to correct that and silence that he is a flat-track bully. He tried to curb a shot with his left foot around Ederson, but the City goalkeeper pushed it out with his right hand and Ziyech blasted the riposte high over the crossbar.

It did not take long for Chelsea to regret that miss. Twenty minutes into time, De Bruyne slipped a tackle midway through Chelsea’s half and ran towards the withdrawn defense. When he got to the edge of the area, he used Thiago Silva as a shield and curled his shot around him.

Arrizabalaga took a half step in the wrong direction and when he corrected himself, it was too late. The ball flew out over his desperate dive and into the bottom corner.

Chelsea never seemed to force themselves back into the match. While attacking in vain, their fans still waved the inflatable trophies behind the goal and were proud of the memories of the past. At present, there is no consolation for teams other than City.

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