As Antonio Conte was talking about how his team can now start counting down the wins they need to claim the title, Pep Guardiola was counting up the matches that have left his side so far away from the champions elect.
“The game at the Etihad [Chelsea’s 3-1 win in December] was a key point in our season in the Premier League. We arrived there four points behind, played much better, didn't have two penalties, created chances which we didn't take, then the red cards... Then it was seven points, then 10 after Leicester City [a 4-2 defeat].”
Now it is 14 points. It really doesn’t look good, for a manager that Conte conspicuously and humbly hailed as perhaps the best in the world. Even beyond the most significant fact that Guardiola is so low in the table and so out of the title race at this point of a season for the first time in his career - let alone that he has actually been out of it since January - there was the symbolism of this result on Wednesday. It marked the first time in the Catalan’s career that he has lost two league games in the same season to the same manager, with the fact it was the manager of the likely title winners - the status that Guardiola was expected to rise to - only further emphasising what a reality check this has all been.
One common perspective is that it proves how so much of his success was down to the teams he had, and the way he has so struggled with an inferior squad in a league with more competitive clubs shows he isn’t that special. That is a perspective bolstered by that table, where they are a long way off. There can be no debate that he is under-performing, since he really should have been challenging for the title properly.
There can be plenty of debate over whether that is anything to be concerned about, because the perspective from the pitch is very different. There, City genuinely don’t look that far off. They often look utterly brilliant in attack, combining a kaleidoscopic collective co-ordination with intricate individual instinct. It was much the same for many moments of this match, meaning this match was much the same as so many others this season. It actually feels like we’ve already seen this City game about 10 times this season, and that if little moments had gone a different way, it could have made a sizeable difference to their season. It could have, as Guardiola argued, seen them properly challenge.
But how can you really square that with the reality that they are so far away from Chelsea on points? As with Manchester United, if these misses and little moments have such a disproportionate effect, it probably means the problem is greater than such quirks of fate. It really doesn’t just come down to the finishing.
Chelsea vs Manchester City player ratings
Chelsea vs Manchester City player ratings
1/22 Thibaut Courtois - 6
Completely at fault for Aguero's equaliser - a rare lapse in concentration. Showed his strengths moments later though to deny Sane a one-on-one chance on goal.
2/22 Cesar Azpilicueta - 6
Decision making was on point for much of the evening and kept a calm head under pressure.
3/22 Kurt Zouma - 7
A respectable return to the starting line-up. After months on the sideline he seemed to cope well with both the pace and intensity of the game.
4/22 David Luiz - 7
A fierce and fiery performance from the Brazilian. Hit hard in his challenges and dealt with Aguero well.
5/22 Gary Cahill - 6
Solid as ever in his reading of the game and challenges, both on the deck and in the air.
6/22 Marcos Alonso - 6
Handled his defensive duties well and proved effective on the front foot.
7/22 N'Golo Kante - 6
Industrious as ever with his running and positioning but one of his more quiet evenings. Conceded a sloppy foul on the edge of his own box which City nearly equalised from.
8/22 Cesc Fabregas - 6
Kept the ball moving well in the middle and was relatively effective in dictating the flow of the game.
9/22 Pedro - 7
Dealt well with his defensive responsibilities tonight and got well forward to put the City defence under pressure. Questionable touches/passes here and there but overall a good night from him.
10/22 Eden Hazard - 8
Once again, Hazard proved to be the difference. Took his first goal well from a difficult angle and reacted well in his penalty attempt to grab Chelsea's second.
11/22 Diego Costa - 6
Another mixed performance. Menaced the City backline with his physical presence but his hold-up play was found wanting at times. It ultimately fell to others to make the difference tonight.
12/22 Willy Caballero - 6
Completely misjudged Hazard’s first goal. Despite taking an unfortunate deflection off Kompany, he should have done better in dealing with the strike. To his credit, he saved Hazard’s initial penalty kick but couldn’t stop the forward from following up.
13/22 Fernandinho - 5
His reckless challenge on Pedro cost City dearly and handed the home side their second goal. Too hot-headed.
14/22 John Stones - 6
Dominated in his aerial battles but struggled to deal with Hazard’s pace and quick feet. Had a glorious chance to equalise in the second half but couldn’t find the goal.
15/22 Vincent Kompany - 5
For all his fight and heart, there was a certain sharpness missing to his game tonight. His weak positioning afforded Hazard the space for his first goal while his lack of pace saw him struggle to keep up with the tempo of the game at times.
16/22 Gael Clichy - 6
Linked up with City's forward players well and was a nuisance in getting in behind the Blues defence.
17/22 Fabian Delph - 5
A series of early, well-timed challenges boded well but he looked out of depth at times. Not a surprise given his lack of Premier League football this season.
18/22 Jesus Navas - 5
A quiet evening as a whole. Had very little say for himself.
19/22 Kevin de Bruyne - 6
Sloppy passing in the centre of park let team-mates down on occasion. Kept him self busy nonetheless and wasn’t afraid to take on his opposite men.
20/22 David Silva - 7
One of City’s more effective players - especially in the first half. His slick passing and clever link-up play kept the visitors’ midfield ticking over. Created numerous chances too and found himself well positioned to set up City’s equaliser. Couldn't find that all important equaliser though.
21/22 Leroy Sane - 6
Had the chance to put City ahead after Aguero’s equaliser in the first half. Flashed with brilliance but couldn't sustain such form throughout the night.
22/22 Sergio Aguero - 6
A classic poachers finish for City's goal. Certainly kept the Chelsea backline busy but it wasn't to be his night.
The issue with City still feels like Guardiola hasn’t fully squared his idea for the team. They play with the attacking pace he would want, but don’t have the midfield base to really make it work. There is no central midfielder to give them that “control” Guardiola has so favoured in the past, meaning a manager whose teams are usually metronomic are instead involved in games that spin so fast it feels anything can happen. What usually happens is that City create a lot of chances but also concede a lot, meaning they can’t quite intimidate opposition in the way they probably should given what they can do attack.
That means he has to do the most obvious thing of all in management: buy. That also opens up a whole lot of debate over whether City were well equipped enough to do what he wanted, or whether a manager with Guardiola’s reputation should really have been able to do more anyway.
It’s again a bit of both.
City should have done much more this season. But they look like they’re going to be capable of more quite soon.Reuse content