Pep Guardiola feels Manchester City are returning to the type of form that saw them lift the Premier League title in successive campaigns after cruising to victory over Chelsea.
Despite being without six first-team players due to coronavirus, City ran out 3-1 winners at Stamford Bridge in Sunday’s clash to make it three league victories in a row.
All three of the visitors’ goals were scored in a ruthless first half, with Kevin de Bruyne assisting Phil Foden and then scoring himself after Ilkay Gundogan’s well-taken opener.
The victory was City’s first this season over one of last season’s top-six finishers at the fifth attempt, moving them to within four points of top spot with a game in hand.
And after a disappointing 2019-20 and a slow start to this season, Guardiola could see signs of the old City against Chelsea.
Starting 2021 in the right way!!pic.twitter.com/Qe5YEcT9eL
— Phil Foden (@PhilFoden) January 3, 2021
“It’s the same team. Same manager, same backroom staff,” he told Sky Sports. “My assistant coach changed a little bit. But the players are the same and the ideas are the same.
“The way we won leagues and titles and other things is the way we played today. The tempo we have missed in the past, today we recovered it.”
Since losing 2-0 to Tottenham in November, City have won five of their seven league matches and drawn the other two.
Only Manchester United, who City face in the EFL Cup semi-finals on Wednesday, have taken more points (20) over that period than the Citizens’ 17.
This latest win came without a recognised striker in their ranks, Guardiola tasking De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Foden and Bernardo Silva with interchanging through the middle.
“The players were excellent in every way especially with the ball,” Guardiola said. “We cannot play like other teams, we have to play in our rhythm and attack in the right moment.
“We won titles in that way, being more patient. We missed a bit of this tempo and today we had it.
“The result is excellent at Stamford Bridge but the way we played was really great. You can’t win titles without playing like that.
“Chelsea are one of strongest teams, even if they have been suffering over the last few games.
4 – Kevin De Bruyne has now scored four goals against Chelsea in the Premier League; the most a former player has netted against the Blues in the competition. Vengeance. pic.twitter.com/Aatitn60eW
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 3, 2021
“But you see the quality of their players and the bench. We had a plan, we tried to play like we have in the past and it worked.”
De Bruyne was a key component in City’s striker-less system, playing three key passes and getting five shots away at goal, one of those – his 34th-minute goal – on target.
The Belgian playmaker, who has now been involved in four goals in his last six league appearances against Chelsea, praised the clinical nature of his side’s first-half display.
“I think the difference today was that when we had the chances, we took them,” he said.
“It’s important that we won one of these big games, as we’ve played some good games against the big teams but not won one of them.
“We’re still fighting an uphill battle but we’re getting closer. The years when we were champions, we were winning these big games, so it’s important.
“It’s a little different this year as everyone is dropping points but it’s good that we’re fighting and that’s the only thing we can do right now.”
City have now won their first league game in 14 of the last 15 calendar years, winning each of the last nine in a row since a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland in 2012.
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