Manchester City showed just how brilliantly good they still are, and thereby showed Maurizio Sarri just how much work he has to do. The Premier League champions claimed the 2018 Community Shield with two divine finishes from Sergio Aguero, but the reality was the gap so often felt greater than 2-0.
It would be difficult to be critical of Chelsea here, as a coach as distinctive as Sarri has only had two weeks to work with this squad in contrast to Pep Guardiola’s two years, and was also missing two of his best players in N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard. There’s also the likelihood that they won’t be the only side to look so far behind City this season.
If there was some disappointment that none of Sarri’s hallmarks or any imprints were seen in this match after progress in pre-season, it was all the more striking that City looked so on it a mere three weeks after the World Cup. And this was without many of their stars, too.
The absence of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, however, allowed the space and stage for players like Bernardo Silva and - most promisingly - Phil Foden to impress, something they did in so many exquisite moves.
City were just so good, even allowing for the fact this was a mere pre-season friendly and one or two hapless moments from Claudio Bravo. In fact, they might actually end up imbuing this fixture with more meaning. The decline of the Shield as any kind of notionally competitive match has been illustrated by the fact it is eight years since a side won it and then went on to win the league in the same season. That looks likely to change given City’s excellence.
The difference in drive and energy was personified by Benjamin Mendy, whose return instantly made City look more physical and powerful, such was his thrust down the left. This is something that should be even more ominous for everyone else. There is still space and scope for the champions to improve. Mendy’s contribution was so good that it reminded everyone just how much City had missed - and yet this was of course still a team that barely missed a beat.
Then there was the way Foden at last got to step in, and more than stepped up. The young midfielder offered a lot of the match’s most luscious moments, particularly the run to set up Aguero for the opening goal and then a delightful ‘sombrero’ over Jorginho’s head.
That was all the more pointed because of City’s failed pursuit of the Brazilian, and what it said about where the teams are at.
Jorginho didn’t have his best match as he struggled to impose himself in any way, and Chelsea repeatedly got caught in behind midfield. It showed that Sarri still has a lot of work to do with the cohesion of this team, but also just how many big players they were missing.
That is another big caveat to go with the fact this was still just a pre-season game. Had Kante been there, his very running would have immediately made Chelsea look more cohesive by virtue of his ability to improbably fill so many gaps, while the absence of Eden Hazard meant Sarri’s side had little cutting edge.
It wasn’t all negative for the Italian, with Callum Hudson-Odoi notably making his presence felt. He again displayed why he should be in this squad rather than going on loan and how Roman Abramovich might finally have the youth graduate he has long craved.
It’s just that the Sarri regime has barely started, and this was as strong a reminder anyone could have had of that.
So, it wasn’t long until City strengthened their lead.
From City’s many nifty creative midfielders, it was this time the turn of Bernardo Silva to set up Aguero. The Portuguese once more worked the space beautifully, and Aguero once again finished so neatly.
This was the story of the game. Everything worked so well for City, in a way Chelsea were never going to be able to compete with.
That might be the story of the season.
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