At the end of the 2017/18 season, the predominant question that made the rounds among football critics was whether Man City could maintain what had been an impeccable standard in a season where they left their closest Premier League rivals squinting to catch a glimpse of their rear view lights.
Not many would have been surprised then that City stormed off the paddocks as the season kicked off and went unbeaten for fifteen straight games before they met their Waterloo this weekend at Stamford Bridge. There were in fact, a few reputable pundits of the game who predicted that this Manchester City side would indeed become the new invincibles by not only match Arsenal’s unbeaten run of the 2003/2004 season but would go on to surpass it.
Along with Liverpool, they had been the only unbeaten sides in the league and City manager Pep Guardiola would have seen Chelsea’s rather sketchy last three performances as indicators that the Londoners were not quite the side that had started the season with such enviable panache.There had been a clear evidence of lethargy that was perhaps occasioned by exertions in Europe and star player Eden Hazard was beginning to look like a player who had had one too many games. At kickoff, it was all Manchester City who mirrored their hosts in terms of formation by playing with a false nine.
The game itself was not what you’d remotely consider a classic as Chelsea started out tentatively making sure that there were always ten men behind the ball as City probed. Leroy Sane who so often is City’s outlet on the left played on Azpilicueta’s shoulders darting past the Spaniard with frightening pace only to be thwarted by fellow countryman Antonio Rudiger .For long periods, Manchester City dominated proceedings but simply couldn’t find a way to tuck away the few chances that came their way. Sergio AgueroCity’s record goalscorer has missed out on Pep Guardiola‘s last three Premier League squads due to a muscle injury and you never quite felt from their performances in the matches he missed that his team needed his predatory instincts as they did against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
At the stroke of halftime, Chelsea suddenly burst into life as David Luiz’s raking diagonal finds Pedro on the left. The Spaniard controls and then swivels on a sixpence before finding Willian who evades a desperate tackle before picking out Eden Hazard. The Belgian had been treading water throughout the half but manages shimmies to find a yard of space before arcing a through ball on to the dynamic N’golo Kante who had hared into the centre of the box to finish emphatically past a hapless Ederson. Not a training ground move by any stretch of the imagination but Chelsea wouldn’t have given a hoot and from the moment that goal went in, you never quite got the sense that despite Man City’s superior ball possession, that they were going to get back into this game.
City huffed and puffed but were still profligate in front of goal and even the addition of the mercurial Gabriel Jesus did little to give Chelsea the jitters in defence. Guardiola must have been galled at the slip up especially as it meant that Liverpool had now climbed above his side to the top of the table courtesy of a comprehensive 4-1 win over Burnley the previous day but he was sanguine in a post-match interview about his team’s chances of retaining the title and keen to debunk the sometimes over-effusive commentaries about an unbeaten run that was predicted as achievable by pundits who failed to see how much last season’s yawning gap in the Premier League has closed this season. “You don’t have to tell me how competitive this league is. It’s you and your analysts that keep saying we are invincible, that we are perfect and that, in February, we are going to win the league. You said that. All of you. Not the manager, not any player, not the club.”
It is laudable that Guardiola has chosen to be pragmatic about the possibilities of winning the title at a canter like they did last season but what happened at Stamford Bridge is surely a blip. Despite the fact that they lost to what I thought was a smash and grab, City were still the better team on the day as the stats would show. They are still the best side in the Premier League and when one considers that Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne could soon be back from lengthy la