Chelsea and City have experienced dramatically different starts to the new Premier League season. After 11 matches, Chelsea was marked as a club stuck in transitional turmoil, with new signings and management struggling to figure one another out. City, on the other hand, found themselves eleven rungs higher up the table, clearly having no intention to rest on the laurels of trebles past.
With these circumstances in mind, many a pundit had predicted a miserable Sunday evening for the Chelsea faithful. The match, however, proved to be memorable for very different reasons, as a dramatic new chapter was written into the history of the nascent rivalry between the two clubs.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Chelsea exhibited a fight and desire to win that has been conspicuously absent from their previous two campaigns. When Erling Haaland converted his early penalty, many a Chelsea supporter was left with head in hands, expecting the team to roll over and simply go through the motions of the remaining 75 minutes.
In reality, however, Chelsea found themselves leading 2-1 just 12 minutes later through Silva and Sterling, and deservedly so. The response to City’s opener is unlike anything Chelsea supporters have seen in recent seasons, with Pochettino’s squad of hungry young players evidently frustrated by early season struggles and ready to make a statement.
That youth did still shine through in more negative ways as the home side struggled to take control of the match, allowing City back into the conversation via a simple set-piece goal in first-half injury time.
The drama continued in the second period. Erling Haaland unsurprisingly doubled his goal tally for the night minutes into the second half, clumsily bundling the ball over the line before Chelsea equalised yet again through Jackson. With just four minutes of regular time left, a long-range Rodri power shot deflected in off the right foot of Thiago Silva, seemingly securing the win for City before Armando Broja was brought down in the box late on, allowing Cole Palmer to drill a penalty home and secure the 4-4 draw.
This result, in tandem with Chelsea’s win at Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the week, serves as definitive proof of concept for the Pochettino project. Presented with a disparate squad full of expensive yet unproven talent, he has quickly turned the team into one that believes in its own ability with the desire to fight for results against much stronger teams, something that couldn’t be said of Graham Potter or Frank Lampard’s Chelsea sides.
Of course, this Chelsea team is still unpolished, but the improvement is tangible and undeniable. As Pochettino noted in his post-match press conference, “We still need to improve, yes… but it's the process when you want to build a project… This type of experience will improve our team, now we need to use and translate [it] to the future.”
Guardiola even seemed to admire the progress made, telling reporters that “it’s a fair result. They try to rebuild a new era, Chelsea… We compete… and there is no complaint.”
With eight points from four challenging matches, Pochettino can look to Chelsea's future with a far greater sense of optimism than he might have a month ago. There is plenty of work still to be done at Cobham, but the progress up to this point is undeniable.