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Raheem Sterling returns to put huge dent in City title hopes as Rodri earns draw with late strike

Erling Haaland had an afternoon to forget.

WELL there was certainly nothing boring about that, eh Gary? It might be worth turning that telly back on after all.

Grandstand finish, blockbusting goal to save the day just when all seemed lost… why it was almost like stepping back in time to the days when football was interesting.

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Former Manchester United defender turned font-of-all-football-wisdom Neville had told the world how treble-winning City’s dominance of the game was making it a turn-off.

How a yawning gap between them and the rest had made football simply, well, yawning as far as he is concerned. And if Gary thinks it, of course it must be true.

Although sometimes, whisper it quietly, perhaps he’s wrong after all. Like last night, for example…. when he sure as hell was.

Okay, maybe not blood and thunder, chances galore. But a proper contest, for so long looking like a triumph for the underdog, then a late equaliser, and edge-of-the-seat throughout.

The only thing predictable, in fact, was the unpredictability, as Chelsea fought like dogs to protect a lead given to them by Raheem Sterling, and City fought like dogs to peg it back.

Heavens, even when they managed it, the unlikely face of their rescuer was actually a pretty likely one after all.

For while Rodri, whose 82nd minute thunderbolt made it honours even, might not score many, the ones he does certainly come on the biggest of occasions.

The winning strike in the Champions League last season, for example.

Or the equaliser in the come-from- behind title clincher against Aston Villa the year before.

So just chalk this one – a piledriver into the corner via Trevor Chalobah’s knee when Kyle Walker’s shot was blocked – up as merely one more.

And, to be fair, at least it ensured an outcome that City’s possession merited, even if they hardly spent the evening taking potshots at keeper Dorde Petrovic.

Indeed, for all they only saw half as much of the ball, Chelsea had an equal share of chances, from the early cross Conor Gallagher put behind Nicolas Jackson as he waited for a tap-in.

On the touchline Mauricio Pochettino whipped round in fury – with good cause. A decent cross and it was a tap-in for the Senegalese striker, barely six yards out.

Then again, when you saw the gimme of a chance he missed midway through the first half, perhaps not.

Raheem Sterling strikes against Manchester City for the SECOND time this season.

It started with a great ball down the line from City old boy Cole Palmer to the rampaging Malo Gusto, who picked out the unmarked Jackson in the middle.

With City stretched, he had all the time to steady himself for a first time shot. Instead he got his legs in a tangle and by the time he did pull the trigger, Ederson smothered.

It was the finish of a striker who looked bereft of confidence, bereft of belief in his own ability. It was, in short, a shocker, and surely one that would cost them.

After all, when it comes to the Etihad, the champions usually simply blow sides away. Overpower them, over-run them, outplay them.

Haaland struggled to hit a barn door today
Haaland struggled to hit a barn door today
Credit, then, to Chelsea for sticking in there – and then for sticking the ball in the net when they did create another opening and snatched the lead on 42 minutes.

It was the classic sucker punch, too, catching City with a lightning counter raid via Gusto and Jackson, who certainly proved a better provider than he was finisher.

For when he crossed magnificently and pin pointedly to Sterling, he cut back inside Walker and clipped a finish into the far corner. Perfection for Chelsea, purgatory for City.

Fair reward, though, for their efforts. And especially those of Enzo Fernandez, increasingly looking the £100m midfielder he is.

A hell of a lot more than colleague Moises Caicedo at least – a man who cost a similar amount yet at times played like a Sunday League hacker with a hangover.

Caicedo was lucky to escape a yellow for jabbing a foot into Jeremy Doku, collected one for scything down Kevin De Bruyne and walked an ever-stretched tightrope towards a red.

City were walking one with their wasted opportunities too. And, believe it or not, the man guilty for the biggest clangers was Erling Haaland.

The man who had rattled in 75 goals in his previous 72 games in a sky blue shirt. The finest finisher in Europe, maybe even the world.

But last night one who came up with two howlers to haunt him for years.

The first came after little more than ten minutes, when he got up well enough to meet Julian Alvarez’ cross, but couldn’t keep his header down.

But the worst came 65 minutes later when Jeremy Doku clipped a ball from the left. Haaland came flying in… and bulleted a header wide from ten yards.

That was when you sensed perhaps it wasn’t going to be their night after all. They weren’t going to peg back Liverpool’s five point lead after all…only no-one told Rodri.

Looks like we’re in for a proper title scrap all the way to the line. You never know, it might even tempt Mr Neville to get back in front of the box.

 

 

 

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