Man City’s Premier League coronation shows how far their rivals have fallen

But the context changed the minute Nottingham Forest beat Arsenal. This became an exhibition game for City, a chance for Guardiola to turn to nine substitutes and make them starters. Even Kalvin Phillips got a belated first start for City. Some 364 days after the previous time he figured in a Premier League starting 11, he headed against the base of the post, a first City goal eluding him. He was part of a makeshift midfield with Rico Lewis and Phil Foden; one is often a full-back of sorts, the other normally found in the front three. It was a reason why City were more open than usual, though it scarcely mattered.

More damningly, gaps magically appeared in Chelsea’s five-man defence when City scored. Cole Palmer picked out Alvarez and the Argentinian was free to place a shot beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga. Palmer began in terrific style and the 21-year-old almost marked just his second Premier League start with a goal, Trevoh Chalobah clearing his shot off the line. Foden came close with an audacious lob while Alvarez had a second goal ruled out because of a handball by Riyad Mahrez, his supplier. Alvarez was terrific but if no one else has a second-choice striker of such stature, City can argue he is a £14m bargain.

City fans celebrate Alvarez’s winner

Chelsea give City a guard of honour

Chelsea, with as many league goals as Haaland has on his own, lack any kind of potent first-choice centre-forward, let alone a high-grade understudy. A side with a marked aversion to scoring had the opportunities to level after making a timid start. Stefan Ortega denied Raheem Sterling a goal on his return to the Etihad Stadium. Sterling was thwarted, too, by a brilliant goal-line clearance from his former teammate John Stones, even if he was then ruled offside. Sterling came off to a standing ovation, but from the home faithful; named Footballer of the Year and scorer of 31 goals in a season for City may have felt nostalgic for his old club. His season, like Chelsea’s, has been a harrowing affair.

Chelsea’s other threat stemmed from two of their own. Conor Gallagher headed Lewis Hall’s cross against the post. Hall and Gallagher acquitted themselves well, two youth-team products faring better than many of the buys. Meanwhile, Noni Madueke was strangely demoted to the bench by Lampard; Trevoh Chalobah ended up at left wing-back, irrelevant experiments as Chelsea’s season peters out.

Guardiola brought on some of the regulars, in Stones, Rodri, Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne, which meant they had to flee in the pitch invasion after the final whistle. At least, though, they had something to celebrate. Two years ago, Chelsea beat City three times in six weeks and defeated them in a Champions League final. But, as one closes in on a historic treble and the other has endured one of the worst campaigns a superclub has ever had, it feels far longer ago.

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