March 4, 2018. A trip to the Etihad for the then-Premier League champions had resulted in one of the most abysmal displays of football from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, the respectable 1-0 scoreline of defeat not fooling the fans or the board by any means. Less than a year later, many Chelsea fans would rather accept that form of defeat than what Maurizio Sarri’s side were subjected to, by an irresistible Manchester City.
Chelsea, not anywhere close to being title contenders this season, were ‘a mere nine points off the top of the league table’ according to Guardiola, still possessing an outside chance to make a late run for the Premiership but after the ninety minutes at Etihad, not only did Sarri’s team drop down to sixth position, questions were also raised about the Italian’s future and the club hierarchy’s abject lack of planning.
While Chelsea had a week to prepare, Manchester City faced Everton in the midweek. While Chelsea could afford to play their own game with no pressure whatsoever, the onus was on the home side to secure all three points to keep up with Liverpool in the title race. In the end, Pep Guardiola's side produced an emphatic performance with the magical Sergio Aguero at its helm.
Manchester City began the game with a bulk of possession, but things didn’t seem as rosy initially with the highlight moment of the first half being Guardiola’s hitting the ground in despair as Aguero missed a sitter from goalmouth. The miss didn’t faze the Argentine, but only managed to spur him on as only five minutes later, Aguero found the back of the net with an absolute screamer – hitting the ball in the top right corner with the precision of a sharpshooter and the beauty of a magician.
Aguero's second goal not only cemented City’s lead but killed off the game as well. But it was not only Aguero’s excellence, but Chelsea's overall ineptitude which gifted City the goal as Ross Barkley’s header towards his own goal fell straight at Aguero’s feet. On either side of Aguero’s brace, Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan found the net to hammer Chelsea in a startling twenty-five minute spell in the first half. While Gundogan's goal was a beauty in itself, Sterling’s goal was a mixture of City’s clever attacking play and Chelsea’s failure to read a simple attacking set piece.
Kevin de Bruyne's freekick had found Bernardo Silva in space in the Chelsea penalty area with the entire visitors' backline inefficient to stop the Portuguese’s sublime pass to Sterling. Going up by four goals in the first half itself did not take any edge out of Guardiola’s side although Hazard and Co enjoyed their fair share of possession late into the first half; Chelsea’s toothless attack though was incapable of putting any pressure on Ederson's goal.
The second half invited more of the same for Chelsea as a silly error from skipper Cesar Azpilicueta handed City a penalty. The Spaniard had jumped the gun on Sterling’s mazy run into the penalty area and Aguero was the sole winner as the Argentine racked up his 11th Premier League hattrick for the Manchester club, equalling Alan Shearer's record in the process.
Another poacher's goal from Raheem Sterling midway through the second half handed Chelsea their heaviest loss of the Abramovich era, but the 6-0 scoreline was overtly kind to the visitors who were so shambolic in all departments that even the most fervent of Chelsea fans would not have complained if City had scored a few more.
Maurizio Sarri declared “This is not my football” in a bamboozled fashion in the post-match press conference, but the manager can no longer be absolved of all liability, for the failure to motivate his players to adapt to his style of football eight months in his tenure lies solely on him. Even more astounding has been the fact that Sarri refuses to change any personnel in his system in spite of the consistent deplorable displays.
Jorginho produced yet another disaster-class while Pedro and Marcos Alonso were reassuringly mediocre. As has been the case all season, Hazard was Chelsea’s only glimmer of hope with new arrival Gonzalo Higuain sparkling occasionally, but those two were never enough in a faulty Chelsea system.
This was Chelsea’s biggest defeat since a 7-0 loss to Nottingham Forest in April 1991 and followed defeats of 4-0 at Bournemouth and 2-0 at Arsenal in their two previous away games. What has been more excruciating for fans is the fact that there have been no away goals since 30 December, neither has Chelsea looked like they could score one – irrespective of the quality of opposition they are facing.
Sarri will face a lot of questions in the coming days, most notably on his future and his plans for Chelsea’s immediate future. The Italian as well as the board are quickly running out of options to salvage Chelsea's season and the club's future in terms of being a competitive entity which can challenge for the title on a regular basis.
If something was cemented further, it was Pep Guardiola’s uncanny ability to pull his side into the winning position when the odds are stacked against. Manchester City's three consecutive victories against Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea, especially with Liverpool breathing down their neck has not only presented an enticing Premier League title race for football lovers, but also sent a clear message to Jurgen Klopp's side – should Liverpool wish to engineer a Premiership victory, they must do so with all their enthusiasm, for City will never throw in the towel.
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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2019 15:37:23 IST