Manchester City’s last home game of last season could scarcely have been more dramatic. A 3-2 comeback win over Aston Villa rescued the title from the clutches of a Liverpool team who had run them all the way to the wire. This year, their last Etihad appearance of the campaign could not have been more straightforward. A 1-0 win over a half-hearted Chelsea team followed by the lifting of a trophy they actually won yesterday afternoon without having to kick a ball. In a way it is almost more impressive to win the Premier League in such routine fashion than it is to do so in the throes of Hollywood drama. Considering this is the fifth time in the last six years that this same club has raised the trophy, that drama is the exception rather than the norm.
The first half had the look of a friendly match. Chelsea played like a team gifted front row tickets to watch the Premier League champions in action rather than a tram credibly trying to beat them. City didn’t yield though, they never do. No sooner had the whistle blown than Kalvin Phillips was having a powerful drive blocked from distance.
Sergio Gomez was one of several rare inclusions from manager Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard spun an early shot wide and he was joined by Cole Palmer, the aforementioned Phillips and Stefan Ortega among those who were making rare City starts.
Julian Alvarez, leading the line in Erling Haaland’s absence, was one of those enjoying an increased role on the day. A loose Wesley Fofana pass was cut out by Palmer, who found the Argentina striker with a tidy ball. Alvarez evaded the attentions of Thiago Silva and slammed his shot home to give City a lead that really could have been more by the time half time beckoned.
City started the second half with similar slickness to that which they displayed in the first. Rico Lewis, Cole Palmer and Phil Foden opened Chelsea up before seeing their chance go. Chelsea broke at the other end and Lewis Hall drew a good save from the underworked Ortega.
Kalvin Phillips goes inches away from doubling Man City's lead
The game burst to life near the hour mark, when Phillips hit the post at one end before Chelsea launched a counter. The ex-Leeds midfielder’s headed chance was cleared after he guided a Riyad Mahrez free kick towards goal. Chelsea then went up the other end with Raheem Sterling playing the ball wide to Hall. The youngster’s cross was cut out by Ortega but once again Chelsea showed they can find a way through City on the counter.
Sterling nearly struck on familiar turf, having a trickling shot cleared off the line in a breathless sequence of play. It wouldn’t have counted, with the former City man flagged offside. It would have perhaps been some consolation for the difficult season he has endured at Stamford Bridge since leaving the confines of the Etihad last summer.
Alvarez struck again with twenty minutes remaining as Mahrez squared for the Argentine to stroke into an empty net. At least that’s how it appeared, before referee Michael Oliver reviewed the VAR footage and noticed Mahrez’s handball in the build-up.
It was immaterial in the end. In some games VAR decisions carry such vital importance that they are debated well into the following week. Others, such as this, will barely register. Buried under images of this manager and these players lifting this trophy once again. This is becoming routine. If you think about it, that’s the finest compliment you could give this Manchester City side.