The fortunes of Manchester City and Chelsea have followed vaguely parallel paths for much of the last five decades, but on the evidence of this match at the Etihad, the two clubs are heading in different directions right now.
With five strung across the back and four more parading ruggedly in front of them for double protection, the visitors’ line-up looked as bottom heavy as a Bulgarian shot putter. Eden Hazard, cutting an increasingly bedraggled figure alone in the driving rains on the halfway line, must have wondered what he had done to deserve banishing to a different land to that inhabited by his teammates.
If ever a week summed up the majesty and magnificence of what Pep Guardiola has brought to Manchester it was one where Arsenal had been twice demolished, the first trophy of the Guardiola era was captured and the reigning champions were reduced to looking like pessimistic lower league cup opponents.
The one remaining question mark lies alongside what happens next in the Champions League, where Basel wait to be finished off.
It is surely up to the rest to do the worrying now.
Any spies from Spain, Germany or Merseyside tucked in with their hot water bottles at the Etihad will have exited the place with notebooks brimming. How do you stop this City side? Antonio Conte’s idea was beautiful in its simplicity: build a wall and see if everything bounces off it. Here is where the big-hitting continental managers really earn their wages.
It worked to an extent, but such a pitiful response from a side that 12 months ago was lording it at the top of the Premier League looked neither brave nor sophisticated. They had won here last season, the last side to do so at the Etihad in a period of growing sky blue supremacy, but here ambition was limited to the giraffe-like flailing of Antonio Rudiger, leathering the ball over the halfway line. Anyone who thought City’s quickfire goal at the start of the second half would awaken Chelsea from their torpor was quickly brought back to earth by Rudiger walloping the ball back towards the darkening sky.
The mind drifted back to the days of Peter Osgood and Mike Summerbee, the swinging 60s, when Summerbee shared a clothes boutique with George Best and Osgood traipsed into training with Hollywood sweetheart Raquel Welch in tow. City and Chelsea were in the vanguard of cool that was sweeping Britain. Summerbee would have looked at his modern-day reincarnation, Leroy Sane, all bewildering speed and extravagant close control, and seen the club’s heritage for attacking down the wings with gay abandon is being well looked after.
Osgood might have looked long and hard to identify who was playing in his old position of Number Nine. There was nobody there. Just the isolated figure of Hazard, rubbing his hands furiously to keep warm. He would have recognised the comely bulk of Olivier Giroud alright, but Chelsea’s decision to actually play a proper striker with 13 minutes to go was a diversionary tactic that suggested they had planned inertia right until the end, followed by 10 minutes of crazy leg confusion.
It wasn’t a bad idea in the circumstances, with only one goal separating the two teams, Aguero’s telepathic understanding with David Silva, leading to a bumbling finish from Bernardo Silva at the back post. By then City had passed Chelsea to a halt. By the end, the pass total stood at 902, more exchanges of the ball by one team than in any Premier League game since the 2003-04 season.
And herein lies the challenge for those teams hoping to beat City to the Champions League and one that England’s outgoing champions failed miserably to address: First you must have the ball.
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