Manchester City trimmed the gap to Premier League leader Arsenal to five points by beating Chelsea 1-0 on Thursday after a double substitution by Pep Guardiola paid off immediately at Stamford Bridge.
Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish entered in the 60th minute and combined for the only goal three minutes later, with Mahrez tapping in from close range after a perfectly weighted cross by his fellow winger.
City only came to life in the second half after a curiously passive display before halftime, perhaps brought on by a confusing team selection by Guardiola that saw a number of players deployed in unusual roles.
Known for his overthinking at times, Guardiola took off two full backs — Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker — at halftime and restored Rodri to center midfield. Suddenly, City was all over Chelsea and creating chances.
“It all came together in the second half,” City defender John Stones said.
The goal came after Guardiola’s second double change, though it might have been kept out had Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga stretched out to block Grealish’s low cross from the left rather than pull away his arm.
“I felt the keeper was going to get it at one point,” Grealish said, “though maybe I should be praising my cross!”
City pulled four points clear of third-place Newcastle and closed in on Arsenal, which drew 0-0 at home to Newcastle on Tuesday.
“We don’t focus on the table ... there’s a long way to go,” Stones said. “In previous years we have gone on long unbeaten runs and we need to do it again.”
Chelsea stayed in 10th place, 19 points off the leaders. Graham Potter’s team is as close to the relegation zone as the top four.
Chelsea lost forwards Raheem Sterling, who joined from City in the offseason, and Christian Pulisic to injuries in the first half. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came on for Sterling in the fifth minute and was substituted in the 68th.
Another of the substitutes, Carney Chukwuemeka, struck a shot against the post at the end of the first half.
The teams meet again in the FA Cup on Sunday, with City hosting on that occasion.