Losing a player the caliber of Sergio Aguero days ahead of facing a title challenger on the road is a letdown for most teams. But most teams aren't Manchester City.
Aguero was involved in a car crash Thursday in Amsterdam and broke a rib. The injury means Manchester City will be without their talismanic attacker, and his goalscoring prowess, for at least two weeks. Aguero has six goals so far in this English Premier League season. Without that potential production, the trip to Stamford Bridge to face to Chelsea on Saturday seemed much tougher on paper.
In reality, Manchester City came to London and did what it's done in nearly every Premier League match it's played this season: put on a complete performance, flying forward in attack and battening the hatches in defense. Although the win wasn't eye-popping like City's lopsided victories over Liverpool, Watford and Crystal Palace, the 1-0 result against the Blues certified City's title credential more than any match this season.
What sets Man City apart from the other likely challengers for the title is its relentlessness in attack. Manager Pep Guardiola has instilled his philosophy in this team, and it does not let up with the pressure offensively. I haven't watched a City game yet this season when the City attack didn't outwork its opponent's defense. And when that determination to get forward mixes with a group of the most talented attackers in the world, you get a potent combo of will and skill in front of goal.
Even without Aguero in the lineup, City had a veritable Murderers' Row on offense. On Saturday, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva all started for Manchester City. Any one of those five players can score from about any spot in the final third of the pitch, and they all had their chances. City took 17 shots, six on target.
But it was De Bruyne who scored City's lone goal against Chelsea. After 67 scoreless minutes, the Belgian found space in the midfield, played a nice 1-2 with Silva, sprang forward and belted a shot into the right corner of the net to nab his fourth goal of the season. There were no clear mistakes Chelsea made in the sequence. The Blues were simple broken down by City.
City was handed an assist via an injury in the Chelsea side. Striker Alavaro Morata went down injured and was substituted in the 35th, robbing the Blues of their best scoring options. Morata has six goals in seven matches for Chelsea this season. So if a Chelsea player was going to score in this match, chances were it would be Morata. Without him, Chelsea lacked that extra bit of edge that could have helped earn a draw.
Even without Morata, Chelsea still had plenty of attacking options. And Guardiola's squad was just as disciplined in defense as it was in attack. The City defense was suffocating, allowing only four shots, two on goal.
This game decides nothing in terms of the Premier League title race. Chelsea could still easily repeat as champions. Manchester United is still level on points with City and trails in the table only because of goal differential. But City's win on Saturday was a statement. It was the most impressive performance so far of Guardiola's career in Manchester. Even though it was only a one-goal victory, City was the better side. It was always proactive, keeping Chelsea on-tilt by dictating the flow and pace of the game. This wasn't a lopsided win, but it might as well have been.
Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter@CEPBrown.