Saturday 21 April 2018

Guardiola's men show why they're champions

Manchester City 1 Chelsea 0

Manchester City players celebrate after Bernardo Silva’s winning goal. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Manchester City players celebrate after Bernardo Silva’s winning goal. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Jason Burt

This was the Premier League champions against the champions-elect and the gulf felt even greater than the extraordinary 25 points that now separates fifth-placed Chelsea from top-of-the-table Manchester City.

One of the songs sung by the City fans is 'We're Not Really Here', a reminder of the days in the late 1990s when they were a third-tier team, but it was Chelsea who were not really here for this fixture.

Their travelling supporters, who sarcastically cheered when their team finally won a corner after 42 minutes, will have wondered what this was all about because it was a 1-0 hammering, with the reaction of their star player, Eden Hazard, summing it all up.

Asked to play, again, as a 'false' No 9, he ambled around disbelievingly as the ball sailed over his head until he was eventually substituted late on.

Hazard then failed to acknowledge Antonio Conte and although the Italian will point to the narrowness of the scoreline as some kind of misguided justification for his approach, it felt more like a relegation team arriving at the Etihad than one which won the league last season.

Superior

Bernardo Silva (C) scores the only goal of the game. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Bernardo Silva (C) scores the only goal of the game. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola had hailed Conte as a master tactician, but there was nothing masterful about these tactics. It was five-at-the-back and try and hold on, to try and frustrate a vastly superior opponent for as long as possible - although Conte may also point to the fact that it was a defensive error, by Andreas Christensen, that led to the only goal.

But that would mask the poverty of his team's performance and a result leaves them five points behind fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur in the fight to qualify for the Champions League. A fight they are losing.

Damagingly for Conte, it was a fourth successive away defeat and a fourth loss in their last five league games.

That would suggest he is under even more pressure, but it is pretty certain that he is leaving at the end of this season, come what may, and he did little to suggest otherwise. The problem for Chelsea is the effect this has on the rest of their campaign.

Antonio Rudiger battles with Sergio Aguero for possession. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Antonio Rudiger battles with Sergio Aguero for possession. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For City it is 14 home wins in a row; they are 18 points clear at the top and need just 12 more points from nine games to be champions - although, probably, only 11 points given their vastly superior goal difference, which should have been enhanced further in this match. Or this mismatch.

City also set a new record of 902 passes completed in a Premier League match, with an astonishing 68 per cent of those in the Chelsea half, and with their 'holding' midfielder - not that he had much defensive work to do - Ilkay Gundogan having 181 touches. Again, the most ever in a Premier League game. Usually such statistics are compiled against relegation fodder. Not Champions League teams.

The one surprise was that City only had 71pc possession. It felt far more than that while, for Chelsea, the sight of Christensen, Antonio Rudiger or Cesar Azpilicueta hoofing the ball aimlessly up the pitch as they tried to relieve the pressure was dispiriting. Sure they missed N'Golo Kante, who had to pull out through illness, but that only goes so far. It should also be pointed out that Conte sanctioned the purchases of both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud who only came on late into this game.

Conte was more concerned about not being thumped than trying to win and that is an indictment in itself. It is a common theme in this league when teams face City, but that is no excuse. Chelsea are the champions. They should be going out on their shields, not like this.

So it was little more than a glorified game of attack versus defence which, once City scored, had no drama attached to it. The pace even dropped to pedestrian midway through the second-half and although Guardiola celebrated exuberantly at the end, that was more about how close they are to lifting the crown than beating Chelsea.

Leroy Sane (R) makes it through a tackle from Chelsea's Victor Moses. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Leroy Sane (R) makes it through a tackle from Chelsea's Victor Moses. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

They should have been out of sight before, barely 30 seconds into the second-half, Gundogan played the ball forward and Christensen made a hash of clearing it from inside his own penalty area, striking it against Azpilicueta before it ran to Sergio Aguero.

The striker quickly slid a pass to the overlapping David Silva, who sent in a low skimming cross to beyond the far post. Marcos Alonso was caught out as Bernardo Silva arrived and the Portuguese shot - shinned it - back across Thibaut Courtois and into the net.

Bernardo had spurned first-half chances, while Azpilicueta had denied Leroy Sane, again at his elusive best, as he deftly cushioned a deep free-kick by Kevin De Bruyne and then struck a powerful shot beyond Courtois only for the defender to block on the line.

Maybe Chelsea had one chance. Soon after City scored they countered with the ball played out to Victor Moses, but as Oleksandr Zinchenko attempted to cover Moses sliced his shot high and wide.

Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola shake hands at the end of the game. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola shake hands at the end of the game. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

And that, pretty much, was it. Chelsea, for the first time since Opta started compiling such statistics in 2004, did not have a single shot on target. They had two, in total, both off target. At the same time City did not spurn a host of chances.

But at least, unlike Chelsea, they were here and they played like champions. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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