Doku and Haaland knew who to blame for Man City draw vs Chelsea

The talking points as Manchester City faced Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday.

With Jack Grealish out, Bernardo Silva not fit enough to start and John Stones presumably not ready to play twice a week, Pep Guardiola had a choice to make with his Manchester City lineup against Chelsea.

He could try and replicate the strong lineup he named in Denmark. Or he could embrace the chaos like he did at Stamford Bridge and recall Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez. He opted for the latter, leaning into the attacking options he had available, even if it invited pressure. Manuel Akanji has been good enough in the Stones role, pushing into midfield, but he isn’t Stones, with the experimental XI left space for Chelsea on the transitions.

Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling exploited the City deficiencies, with Rodri exposed and Palmer constantly finding teammates in space on Chelsea’s right after catching Nathan Ake out of position. It resulted in Raheem Sterling’s goal, and Chelsea’s gameplan of committing men forward on the transition worked perfectly time and again.

Chelsea continued their gameplan in the second half, with Palmer constantly unchallenged when playing simple balls into the empty channel. Doku was providing City’s main outlet, with erratic results when it came to his end product, but he was at least keeping the pressure on. It felt like City’s gameplan was running away from them, replaced by willpower on and off the pitch. It was not the way Guardiola would like to win games – and the point they came away with proved as much.

We have picked out five talking points from a frustrating evening in the title race, which gave Liverpool and Arsenal an advantage in the Premier League.

Doku and Haaland full time reactions speak volumes

For all City’s spirit in getting back into the contest with Chelsea, this was a game where two points were dropped from their perspective rather than a gutsy point gained from behind. City were guilty of wasting a number of chances – Erling Haaland especially – while Jerremy Doku’s end product was consistently disappointing.

With the full-time whistle came the Oasis classic and the lyric ‘you’ve got to roll with it’, and that’s what City will do. ‘Singing the Blues’ came next. The away fans celebrated like they had won more than a point that kept them in 10th place, and at the other end of the Etihad, Doku sank to the turf. He cannot be accused of lacking effort, but he knows this was not his best outing since his summer arrival. Replacing Jack Grealish, who helps City by slowing down the attack, Doku hindered them by doing the same thing – before often failing to find an attacker in the box.

Haaland, too, was frustrated at full time. He pushed a camera away for getting too close and spent minimal time on the pitch when he would usually do a lap of thanks to supporters. He took his shirt off and looked distraught as he trudged off, knowing he should have scored at least one goal to turn one point into three. Those reactions proved just how City’s dressing room felt about another frustrating evening against Chelsea.

Three players fail to take their chance

What is it about Chelsea? They started this game in the bottom half of the table, but for the second time this season managed to cause City more problems than most teams will. It didn’t help City that they were without three of their go-to big game players who work so hard to stop transitions, but in Jeremy Doku and Manu Akanji there were more-than-adequate replacements with their own qualities. And Julian Alvarez is a World Cup winner who has excelled linking midfield and attack this term.

This was a chance for both Doku and Akanji especially to work their way back into contention for the big games coming up. But Doku was guilty of struggling to find an end product in attack, and leaving Nathan Ake isolated in defence. He was more urgent in the second half, but still failed to make up for his lack of awareness compared to Grealish with enough decisive output in attack. For Akanji, he showed he can’t copy Stones well enough to displace him when the England man is fit again.

The team in Copenhagen was considered City’s strongest of the season – namely because Grealish, Bernardo and Stones were all in the XI. Without them, Guardiola was forced to sacrifice some of the control he craves. The chaos that replaced the trio against Chelsea is unlikely to be well-received in the dugout. It was no coincidence that City’s more cohesive attacks came when Bernardo replaced Alvarez. When the next big game comes around and everyone is fit, the chances are slim that the starting XI will include Akanji or Doku – and maybe even Alvarez.

Palmer gets the reception he deserves

At Stamford Bridge, both Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer got mixed receptions from the travelling City fans given their status as ex-Blues and their public desires to leave the Etihad in search of regular games. Palmer’s late goal at Stamford Bridge prompted him to shrug his shoulders in a non-celebration that still sent a strong message. Palmer’s comments this week about proving a point to City may have earned him more questionable treatment from his former supporters.

However, even before kick-off, there was warm applause for both Sterling and Palmer as the Chelsea team was read out. In the tunnel, substitutes John Stones and Bernardo Silva shared handshakes and a few words with Palmer, before each member of City’s starting XI stopped to shake Palmer’s hand before walking out.

Palmer grinned like a Cheshire Cat after Nathan Ake’s last-ditch slide to deny him a certain goal, while Sterling kept his celebration respectful for his first-half goal. Both were replaced before the end, initially drawing boos from the crowd before spontaneous applause broke out for the pair.

At full time, Palmer spent time with Ederson, Ruben Dias, Phil Foden and Rico Lewis, belatedly joining his teammates to thank the travelling fans. After plenty of talk, it felt like a therapeutic return for Palmer, on the night he put in his best performance at the Etihad to date.

Rodri repeats his Istanbul moment (kind of)

City playing badly and out of character? Check. Time running out and big players missing big chances? Check. Ederson keeping them in the game? Check. This was not Istanbul, but a game that had nearly as much tension, and felt like a must-win in the title race given Liverpool and Arsenal’s big wins earlier in the day. Step forward Rodri, wit the ball bobbling loose in the area, to put his foot through it.

This strike wasn’t as sweet as in the Champions League final, nor as composed. It took a deflection on the way in, but the Etihad erupted as if it was the most important goal Rodri had ever scored. It was certainly a release of 75 minutes’ worth of frustrations. Rodri led his teammates back to the centre to restart, but will know he continued his record of scoring important, emphatic goals in another big game.

City fans had been geared up for this game in the rain from well before kick-off, and backed their team throughout, even when the Blues trailed. They were singing about Istanbul earlier in the second half, so it was appropriate that Rodri’s equaliser brought back memories of that special night. This goal won’t win City any major trophies, but it could well keep them in the hunt for one.

Guardiola and Pochettino steal the show

Pep Guardiola bluntly said he respects Mauricio Pochettino when asked to praise the Chelsea manager before the game, refusing to expand much. He went a little further in his programme notes, saying: “You can see a Pochettino team very quickly because they adhere to his principles. Nothing comes easy when you play against him, so facing him is always such a difficult challenge.” The pair shared a pre-match joke, after City left Stamford Bridge in November without a customary full-time handshake. Pochettino assured the Catalan there wouldn’t be a repeat on Saturday.

Before the game, the Etihad screens proudly displayed the statistic that Guardiola had only lost one of his 12 home games against Pochettino. And with the game underway, both managers camped out in the rain on the edge of their areas, competing to react more theatrically than the other to missed chances, poor passes, and questionable refereeing decisions. When Raheem Sterling scored, Pochettino celebrated in his usual exuberance. Guardiola ranted and raved more than he often does.

Both men were a little more tense after the break, keen to get the best result for their team. Guardiola celebrated wildly when Rodri equalised, and Pochettino was true to his word at full time when he made a beeline for Guardiola for a brief handshake. Neither manager will be too happy with the result – but Pochettino will be a little more pleased. And Guardiola still has that home record against his adversary.

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