Pep Guardiola: Rico Lewis 'changed the game' for Manchester City in win at Chelsea

City manager praised youngster for his impact in the 1-0 Premier League victory at Stamford Bridge

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Pep Guardiola praised Manchester City youngster Rico Lewis for "changing the game" as the Premier League champions overcame a poor first half to defeat Chelsea 1-0 on Thursday night.

City were second best for the opening 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge, but were transformed after the break - when 18-year-old Lewis was introduced - and Riyad Mahrez's 63rd-minute goal provided an important victory to their hopes of retaining the title. City now trail leaders Arsenal by five points.

Guardiola's substitution decisions proved vital on Thursday night, with full-back Lewis and Swiss defender Manuel Akanji replacing Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker at halftime, before Jack Grealish and Mahrez were sent on minutes before combining for the match-winning goal.

“All the managers try to make decisions to help the team," Guardiola said. "Sometimes you are losing but the team is playing good and why I should change when I have the feeling they are doing well?

“Today, after 20 minutes, because you have to give them a little bit of time to try, I decided I didn’t like what I was seeing. So why wait? I spoke with (coaches) Rodolfo [Borrell] and Enzo [Maresca], and we said: ‘OK, we have to change something otherwise it would have been more difficult.

“Everyone could see from the first minute of the second half, it was a different Man City."

And it was Academy player Lewis whom Guardiola credited with having the biggest impact on City's improved performance.

"This dynamic from Rico helped everyone to have their freedom," the Spaniard said. "He changed the game from minute one.

"In the first half, everything was sloppy, and we couldn’t keep contact with the wingers or the attacking midfielders and we didn’t create much. Our pressing was so poor, and we were not well organised.

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“In the second half, especially with Manu and Rico – and this young boy has the quality to make us better.

“Everyone can play better, but when [Rico] came in, Rodri played better, Kevin [De Bruyne] played better, and he has the talent to do this.

“Since we have come back, he has been playing for us and he has become fundamental for us, the way he is playing right now.”

Meanwhile, defender John Stones said the win over Chelsea was "just what we needed" as City kept in touch with Arsenal in the title race.

Rico Lewis was singled out for praise by Pep Guardiola for his performance against Chelsea. PA

"It's a big three points, especially after the other day. The overriding feeling was we dropped two points and we wanted to put it right," said England defender Stones, who was named Player of the Match.

"Especially, the way we played in the second half was brilliant and to come away with three points is just what we needed.

"We rushed our play in the first half. We tried to play too many crucial passes and didn't retain the ball as well as we can. Credit to Chelsea they were compact and we couldn't get many balls through the lines.

"It all came together in the second half. A few big moments too, blocks and defending. We’ve been working on that in training and it came off today."

City and Chelsea face off again on Sunday in the FA Cup third round.

Updated: January 06, 2023, 5:34 AM