And for 44 minutes on Saturday, it looked as if Chelsea would go exactly the same way. There is only so long any team can resist the Premier League champion, after all. Sooner or later, Guardiola’s players find a way through. “They always find the spaces,” as Javi Gracia, the Watford manager, said after losing to City last Tuesday.
True, Chelsea was putting up greater resistance than most. For all of City’s slick possession in the first half, for all its effortless dominance, it could create only glimmers of chances: a Raheem Sterling shot hungrily clutched by Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea goalkeeper; Antonio Rudiger blocking an effort from David Silva with his goalkeeper beaten; Cesar Azpilicueta hurling himself in the way to deny Leroy Sane.
So apparent was City’s superiority, though, that a breakthrough seemed inevitable. It was treating Chelsea — a team that had, until just a few weeks ago, been unbeaten in the Premier League; a team packed full of Premier League champions; a team that boasts Eden Hazard, arguably the most gifted player in England — like all of those midtable also-rans it swats aside with such contemptuous ease.
City would, eventually, find the spaces; City would, eventually, score; and it would, eventually, return to the top of the Premier League, a few hours after being dethroned, temporarily, by Liverpool, the last of its challengers to fade.
But then came the 45th minute and Chelsea’s first meaningful attack of the game — a clever, if slightly hopeful, cutback from Hazard, and an unerring finish from N’Golo Kanté, the most dutiful, most dogged chaser of them all. Stamford Bridge, pushed into near silence by City’s precision, came alive. And so, too, did the Premier League title race.