The quadruple remains impossible, as Chelsea start to dream about what exactly is possible for them. Thomas Tuchel claimed his most significant victory in England so far, by bringing his growing team to the FA Cup final, and ensuring they are the first side to eliminate Manchester City from a competition this season.
A giant step for Chelsea and the first trophy to fall for Pep Guardiola. The real worry is what effect this might have on the rest of the season, not least the one they most want – the Champions League.
This 1-0 Chelsea win after all might end up as a dress rehearsal for that showpiece final in Istanbul.
While most of this game was a case of Tuchel laudably outfoxing Guardiola, you could also see exactly why the quadruple has been so difficult.
Despite the depth of their squad and the eight changes City made, they just looked flat and fatigue, devoid of the spark that has fired their form through spring. It has been the story of every team chasing the quadruple in history, going right back to Leeds United in the 1970s. Chelsea were by contrast full of energy, especially that forward line and Hakim Ziyech.
The Moroccan may have had a season of intermittent form, but he has scored some big goals, and this will end up one of the most significant. Tuchel also knew how to use him to hurt City. The German had clearly spotted fissures to exploit in Guardiola’s side from the off.
The first half was slow, but it transpired that was mostly from Chelsea probing, seeing how far they could go. Warning was served in the opening minutes when Timo Werner scorched down Cancelo’s flank to set up Ziyech.
It was just that the German had scorched too early, as he was offside. It was far from the last time we were to see such a move, though. It was far from the last time City were suddenly opened either.
Some of that is going to be a consequence of making so many changes, as freshness comes at the cost of momentum and cohesiveness. It does nevertheless help to have a fully firing N’Golo Kante. He looks at his fittest for a good few seasons, and was the source of so much Chelsea did in the first half. His feet, inevitably, were where the ball came from. They just needed that better touch further forward. It was always as if that last piece of any move was lacking.
That allowed City back into the game when they had been under pressure, although Fernandinho more than disrupted their rhythm – so to speak – with one conspicuous moment. He appeared to put his foot down on a prone Mount, and was very lucky not to be sanctioned. It was the sort of thing VAR really should be surveying.
City had been starting to look the more positive, when they suffered a moment that could yet be key to their season. De Bruyne felt something in his ankle, and immediately signalled he was in trouble.
City lost their most important player, but did bring on their second most important. That is the status Foden has risen to now, where it feels like he has superseded even Sterling in terms of influence on the team.
The forward, in truth, had another disappointing game. It is starting to get to the point where it is a cause for concern, and you even wonder whether Gareth Southgate will start considering how certain Sterling’s England place is.
His only goal in the last 11 games before this was for his country, but that was against San Marino. Beyond that, it’s two months, and a mid-February strike against Arsenal. That rustiness could be seen in his one big chance when he blazed over.
There were bigger issues with City up to that point, though, and it was surprising Guardiola didn’t use his first substitutions or the break to address them. That was to be to the team’s cost.
Within moments of De Bruyne going off, Chelsea finally got that move right. Mount’s passing accuracy was naturally the platform, as he picked out Werner with exactly the right weight of pass.
Onside and on the run, Werner again left Cancelo for dust. If that could be put down to the German’s pace, though, it was a little harder to explain Steffen’s decision-making. He rushed out, only to leave Ziyech with an open goal.
It hadn’t quite been coming at that stage of the game, but had been repeatedly foreshadowed.
The exhilarating sense of freedom any time Chelsea broke was in such contrast to the tired flatness of City’s play. That had that kind of demeanour where you could see they were going through all the usual motions, and trying to play the same moves, but without the same intensity.
The closest they got was that Sterling chance.
Their entire season now lacks the same impetus, as the chance of history goes. The focus on the Champions League will only sharpen, but the wonder is whether this will mean the pressure of it only further weighs down on them. Chelsea meanwhile look released, with a greater impetus of their own.
City are at least back here next Sunday to try and set it right with another League Cup. Chelsea, as a consequence of this result, are back here for the FA Cup final itself. And as a consequence of this performance, their aims might well be as grand as City’s.
They might just be as good a team. Tuchel looks as good a manager.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies