Riyad Mahrez grabs winner as Man City beat Chelsea to close gap on Arsenal

Algerian comes off bench to clinch Premier League points at Stamford Bridge for Pep Guardiola's men

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Riyad Mahrez came off the bench to fire Manchester City to a 1-0 win at Chelsea and cut the deficit to Premier League leaders Arsenal back to five points.

City, held to a draw by Everton on New Year’s Eve, were facing more frustration against an injury-hit yet enterprising Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge.

But less than three minutes after coming on as substitutes with an hour gone, Jack Grealish teed up Mahrez for the winner that keeps Arsenal firmly in their sights.

It also inflicted another defeat on Chelsea, still looking unconvincing under Graham Potter, but who gave City plenty of problems, particularly in the first half despite a double injury blow.

Already without six players, including Reece James and Mason Mount, their evening got off to a bad start when Raheem Sterling was caught by his old City teammate John Stones in the opening moments and limped off.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent on in his place and initially the reshuffle did not knock Chelsea out of their stride, and when Kai Havertz played in Christian Pulisic only a last-ditch tackle from Stones prevented the opening goal.

Potter had said “it never rains but it pours” when discussing his injury list before kick-off but when Pulisic, still feeling that Stones challenge, limped off with only 20 minutes on the clock it became monsoon season for the Blues.

Still they attacked, though, with teenage substitute Carney Chukwuemeka having a shot blocked and Havertz forcing a save from Ederson with the rebound.

City threatened in the latter stages of the first half with Ilkay Gundogan curling a shot wide before he slotted the ball through to Erling Haaland.

The Norwegian looked certain to score when he took a touch with his right foot and prodded goalwards with his left, but the ball flew wide.

Yet Chelsea came agonisingly close to scoring when Chukwuemeka cut inside Kyle Walker and struck a low shot which clanged against the inside of the near post.

Pep Guardiola made a double change at the break, replacing the pair of right-backs he started with, Walker and Joao Cancelo, with Rico Lewis and Manuel Akanji.

It may not have been an attacking change but the difference in intensity from the visitors was palpable.

Haaland dragged another shot wide before Nathan Ake crashed a header against the angle of post and crossbar from Kevin De Bruyne’s cross.

De Bruyne then forced the hitherto underemployed Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga into a fine save with a low drive from the edge of the area.

Man City 1 Everton 1 - in pictures

Guardiola sent on Grealish and Mahrez on the hour, and the double substitution paid instant dividends.

Haaland fed Grealish down the left and Kepa bafflingly allowed the England winger’s low cross to run straight to the far post, where Mahrez had evaded Marc Cucurella to give himself a simple finish.

By contrast to City’s, the Chelsea bench looked distinctly callow but Potter still replaced ineffective first-half substitute Aubameyang with teenager Omari Hutchinson.

Their best chance of an equaliser fell to another young substitute, Lewis Hall, who fired over the crossbar in stoppage time.

So City kept the pressure on Arsenal in a title race that will now be on the backburner for FA Cup weekend, when these two sides meet again at the Etihad on Sunday.

Man of the match Stones said: “It’s a big three points for us. The overriding feeling after the [Everton] game the other day was they we’ve dropped two points and should have got more out of the game and we wanted to put it right today.

“How we especially played in the second half was brilliant and to come away with three points is just what we needed.

“We didn’t retain the ball as well as we usually do in the first half and we spoke at half-time and knew we had to use the ball better and wait for the spaces to open. Credit to Chelsea, they played really compact today and we couldn’t get many balls through the lines and had to play wider but it all came together in the second half.”

On the title race, Stones said: “We don’t focus on the table so early, there’s 63 points still to play for and in previous years, we’ve gone on big winning runs so we’ve got to keep the momentum going and if we perform like we did today, I’m sure we’ll have a fighting chance towards the end of the season.”

Updated: January 05, 2023, 10:32 PM
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