Manchester City make as many headlines in off season as they do during the campaign. Free-flowing and flamboyant football aside, a generous use of the chequebook draws plenty of attention.
This summer, however, the bosses at Manchester City opted to go down a much-subdued route and keep the purse strings tight. Barring the signing of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City, no other marquee player arrived at the Etihad. For Manchester City's lofty standards in the transfer market, this is an aberration.
However, the Citizens' 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield showed why they didn't need to parade their financial muscle in the transfer window this time out. A Sergio Aguero brace capped off a solid team performance, as Pep Guardiola's men never looked like they were in pre-season mode.
A host of their star players returning from the World Cup barely had enough time to play together before the game, but for the defending champions, it didn't seem to matter one bit.
Guardiola's men portrayed enviable amounts of understanding between each other on the pitch and dismantled Chelsea with precisely-built attacks all evening long. It was like City had picked up from exactly where they left off last season, despite missing the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling.
In the end, the ease with which City exerted themselves and eventually coasted to a fine victory, served a timely reminder of their might to those who may have let City's relative inactivity in the market fool themselves.
In the other half of Wembley that sported a shade of Manchester City's blue, there was certainly a cause for concern. Chelsea, under new manager Maurizio Sarri's 4-3-3 formation, looked defensively fragile and offensively blunt.
The personnel in the back four who were used to the five-man defensive system under former boss Antonio Conte got exposed by the pace and guile of the City attack raising questions over certain players' ability to play in the new system.
David Luiz, who was Chelsea's defensive pillar playing at the heart of a three-man defence during their title win in 2017, looked completely out of sorts. His poor positional sense and decision-making cost Chelsea dearly as Aguero, despite not being at his best, was able to punish the Blues.
Similarly, Marcos Alonso who excelled as a wing-back in Conte's system was found wanting playing as a conventional left back. His lack of pace was evident every time he was caught up the pitch. Most of City's attacks came down Chelsea's left-hand side.
The other problem was in central midfield. Summer signing Jorginho, who chose Chelsea over City, seemed quite off the pace. Considering this was his first game in England, that is not surprising, but in the absence of a natural ball-winner and an immobile Cesc Fabregas, City found it easy to play through the Chelsea midfield and cause Sarri's men plenty of problems.
The Blues faithful who anticipated the launch of Sarri-ball at Chelsea were left disappointed. To be fair, they were always going to be. Sarri's playing style that involves an intense high press with small patterns of short-passing is a distinct shift from Conte's counter-attacking ways. Even though Chelsea possess a decent number of technically sound players, the change was never going to happen overnight.
However, not all is doom and gloom for the Blues. Considering Sarri is just three weeks into his tenure as Chelsea manager, he has managed to impart his ideas to the players fairly quickly. There were few distinct periods in the game where we saw glimpses of the way Sarri wants his team to play.
Guardiola's teams are known for keeping lion's share of possession in every game they play irrespective of the opponent. On that front, Chelsea came close to matching City as they finished the game with 48% of possession. The figure was a huge upgrade from the 28% and 38% possession that Chelsea kept in their last two games against City.
The average possession for City in their league games last season was 66.4%, so Sarri should be pretty pleased with Chelsea's progress on that front. In terms of passes, Chelsea managed 392 and 395 against City in their two league games last season. That figure rose to 525 in the Community Shield.
On the other hand, City had made 976 and 673 passes in their two games against Chelsea, while the season average was 743. In the Community Shield, Chelsea managed to keep City down to just 586 passes.
The above numbers are an indication that Chelsea did manage to control the game against City in certain periods but were let down by a lack of suitable personnel to play Sarri's system at both ends.
Chelsea are yet to welcome back the likes of Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante, Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois — if he decides to stay at Stamford Bridge — to their team. Those four players pretty much constitute the spine of the side and will make a difference when they return.
Sarri-ball at Chelsea is less than a month old and even in the demoralising 2-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City — the best team in the league by some distance — there are encouraging signs that the system might be a success in south-west London.
Patience is a word you don't often associate with Chelsea, but it's the need of the hour at Stamford Bridge. As for City, the sky's the limit for Guardiola's stars aiming to push perfection to its limits.
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Updated Date: Aug 06, 2018 16:13:14 IST