It was with certainly doomed futility that at 8.15 pm, the whistle blew and Manchester City’s tropical-yellow shirts set about trying to push back the hurricane with their bare hands. They had picked a near full-strength side, with Bernardo Silva slotting into a front three in the absence of the skillful talisman Sergio Agüero, and an agreeable tempo being set by Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne in the center.
Chelsea, on the other hand, settled in for the long haul, with Mason Mount and Andreas Christensen particularly effective. Resisting Manchester City is as much a test of nerve as technique: let them pin you back in your own third and it might be as long as 10 minutes before they let you out for a short breather.
Yet for all Manchester City’s possession and territory, Chelsea largely held out for over half an hour, their only real chances coming from a Riyad Mahrez interception and a Fernandinho header: the first gifted by a sluggish Kepa Arrizabalaga clearance, the second brilliantly saved by him.
Meanwhile, every once in a while, something strange would happen: Chelsea would finagle the ball up the field and fashion an honest opening. Ilkay Gündogan was forced into a desperate clearance. Ederson saved brilliantly from Christensen. That appeared to flick a switch in Chelsea: the moment they sprang from their traps and realized the game was there for the grab.
Even so, as Antonio Rüdiger headed away a Manchester City corner on 35 minutes, little immediate danger heralded itself. But as Gündogan and Benjamin Mendy casually left the ball for each other thinking of who to take hold of the ball, Pulisic saw an opportunity, stole in and claimed it, breezing past Mendy easily and placing a low shot past Ederson. Jubilant teammates pursued him to the corner flag. On the touchline, Chelsea boss, Frank Lampard urged calm. ”We go again,” he said.
And they did, but so did City. Bernardo and Rodri made way for Gabriel Jesus and David Silva. Benjamin Mendy, seeking instant redemption, smashed a shot into the top tier of the Shed. It took De Bruyne, with the assistance of a needless foul from N’Golo Kanté, to revive a touch of sanity to proceedings as only he knows how. There was an insouciance, even an indifference, to the way he stepped up from 25 yards and easily pinged the ball into the top bin as if it were easier to score than miss.
So, then, to the thrilling theatrical finish: a game that appeared to hollow out from within the middle, as each side realized the pointlessness of a draw. Raheem Sterling capped a brilliant counterattack by chipping against a post. Walker managed to scrape the ball off the line after Pulisic had rounded the goalkeeper.
Eventually, the dramatic flourish: a goalmouth scramble finishing with Fernandinho twice clearing off the line from Tammy Abraham, the second time though – fatally – with his hand. A red card for Fernandinho, a fine cruise penalty by Willian, ensured that Chelsea sealed off the victory.