MANCHESTER – In a haze of blue smoke produced by fans, Manchester City's team buses were serenaded into their stadium with chants of “Champions.”
They proved premature. There was still a game — closed to crowds due to the pandemic — to be won.
And Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 on Saturday and prevent City from clinching a third English title in four seasons and dethroning Liverpool.
City's time will surely come, with three games still to get over the line in the Premier League. The celebrations could even come on Sunday if Manchester United, 13 points adrift of its neighbor, loses at Aston Villa.
Losing to Chelsea has become annoyingly familiar for City manager Pep Guardiola after seeing the quadruple bid ended by an FA Cup semifinal loss three weeks ago. Now it's only three weeks until they meet again on club football's biggest stage — the Champions League final.
“We can learn from this and move on,” Guardiola said. “We have another three chances to be champions.”
How different it could have been had Sergio Aguero not chipped a “Panenka” penalty softly down the center that Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy saved in first-half stoppage time after Gabriel Jesus was brought down by Billy Gilmour.
It was a chance to double the lead after Raheem Sterling swept in the opener in the 44th minute.
Andreas Christensen failed to close down a long ball and fell, and Gabriel Jesus nipped in to seize possession. The pass was squared across the penalty area, that Aguero couldn't control to shoot before Sterling applied the finishing touch.
Then it was a mistake by Rodri, playing as the only midfielder, in giving the ball away around the halfway line that led to Chelsea equalizing in the 63rd. Cesar Azpilicueta broke down the left before passing to Hakim Ziyech and knocking the ball to Christian Pulisic, who held off defender Nathan Ake. Azpilicueta found the space to receive the ball back before squaring it to Ziyech to strike low into the net.
Chelsea looked like it had given away another penalty with two minutes left of regular time when Sterling appeared to be clipped by Kurt Zouma and they fell in a tangle. Despite howls of protests and appeals for the referee to watch the incident himself, no spot kick was awarded.
How costly it proved for City. In stoppage time, Timo Werner cut the ball back for Marcos Alonso to dispatch into the net and seal the win that moved Chelsea up to third.
Maybe Chelsea won't be relying on winning the Champions League to secure a return next season after all. The team was five points from fourth place when Thomas Tuchel was hired in January.
Tottenham faced another season out of the Champions League after losing at Leeds two years to the day after reaching the final of Europe’s elite competition.
Losing to Leeds 3-1 on Saturday left Tottenham five points from fourth place with three games to go, and having played one more than Chelsea.
Tottenham canceled out Stuart Dallas’ early opener through Son Heung-min, but Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo sealed the win. Leeds has gone unbeaten against the “Big Six” at home in its first season back in the Premier League after 16 years, and sits in ninth place.
Crystal Palace will be in the Premier League for an eighth successive season after beating already-relegated Sheffield United 2-0. Eberechi Eze set up Christian Benteke to score after 67 seconds and netted himself in the 88th minute.
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