IT would be wrong to conclude that this was some kind of sliding doors moment; Manchester City already know they will be champions of England.

But three weeks on from snuffing City out in the FA Cup semi-final, it might be tempting to think it will have a bearing on future outcomes. Chelsea repeated their tactical format from that Wembley win and again prevailed in a game that held interest over and above finding out whether Pep Guardiola’s side would earn the win that would guarantee them the Premier League title.

Three weeks from now these sides will do battle for an even bigger prize and it said much about the embarrassment of riches at Guardiola’s disposal and his desire to obfuscate his intentions for the Champions League final on May 29 that he was able to rotate almost an entire team. It was a decision that would ultimately cost him.

The City manager made nine changes to the line-up that beat Paris St-Germain in the semi-final of that competition in midweek. Unsurprisingly the one outfield player who remained was Ruben Dias, the Portuguese defender who did more than most to repel the French champions.

Adding to the sense that neither side wanted to show their hands ahead of that Champions League final were the five changes Thomas Tuchel made to his team with the Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour drafted in to start ahead of Jorginho in the middle of the park.

City will eventually cross the line – and it might even be as early as this evening if Manchester United lose to Aston Villa – while Chelsea are 11/10 favourites to win the FA Cup against an out-of-sorts Leicester City next weekend.

Should both sides do so, it will confirm their position as the best of England’s elite clubs – an unofficial title they have shared for most of the last decade.

Yet, of all the heavyweights that make up England’s big six, it is City and Chelsea who are the least adversarial with each other. For a start, they have avoided the tetchy title races that enveloped United and Arsenal at the turn of the century. Indeed, for long enough, and before the overnight injections of untold riches, they occupied the role of also-rans in English football. In the 80s and 90s, they spent periods out of the top flight, they did not contest the biggest matches and – until they faced each other in the 2019 League Cup final – their only previous meeting in a Wembley showpiece was the 1985 Full Members Cup, a match deemed so insignificant that both teams played league matches a day earlier.

There will be significantly more at stake when they next meet and it would be foolish to read too much into the outcome of this game as a barometer of what might happen in Istanbul, London, Birmingham or wherever UEFA agree to stage the Champions League final.

Nevertheless, there were still meaty enough bones to pick over.

How Raheem Sterling escaped with a yellow card instead of a red for a late challenge on Timo Werner is for referee Anthony Taylor to explain but, for the second time in a fortnight – following Aymeric Laporte’s Carabao Cup winner – a City player who could just as easily have been dismissed, broke the deadlock. That tackle came in the 12th minute and would have given City plenty of work to do, but instead of Sterling leaving the action he scored in the 44th minute, mopping up after Sergio Aguero’s loose control had seemingly cost his side.

It had been a tepid start to the match until that point but Sterling’s goal signalled a flurry of incidents. VAR reviewed his strike to see whether Gabriel Jesus had fouled Andreas Christiansen in the build-up – he hadn’t – but the Danish centre-back was injured nonetheless and had to go off.

With Tuchel desperately appealing for the chance to bring on a substitute, Taylor allowed City to play on and when Gilmour barged Jesus in the area the ref gave a penalty. It presented Aguero with the chance to redeem himself but instead his Panenka attempt was caught one-handed by Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal.

After the break, the game reverted to its previous incarnation: two sides feeling each other out with City the more dominant in possession and Chelsea preferring to commit numbers forward on the counter.

A sloppiness entered City’s play just after the hour when Rodri ran out of passing options and was robbed of the ball by Cesar Azpilicueta. The Spaniard swapped a couple of passes with Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic before setting up the former, who arrowed the ball into Ederson’s bottom corner to level the score.

Werner had a goal disallowed – it was not even close to being onside – to add to a similarly indisputable decision in the first half while substitute Tammy Abraham also had a goal ruled out for the same thing. In those moves, City looked vulnerable and it was not entirely surprising when they conceded the goal that cost them a point in injury time, courtesy of Marcos Alonso’s fortunate looping winner.

But the hosts will feel they should have had a penalty with a couple of minutes left after the Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma seemed to clip Sterling several times in the area as he darted clear.

Chelsea met fire with fire but their players, manager and fans will know it will be nowhere near as straightforward the next time the sides meet.