Between Chelsea and Manchester City in the summer, the two clubs had spent well over £200m in bringing players into the club, hired two of the most prominent managers in world football and embarked on new “projects” in which their billionaire owners would hope will see them lift the Premier League trophy in May.
The two teams faced each other on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium, with both knowing a victory would land a big hit on the others’ title challenge going in to a crucial Christmas period.
In the end it was Chelsea who ran out 3-1 winners, their eighth straight win, with Conte’s men delivering an impressive statement of intent as they tore City to shreds on the break, even after trailing at half time thanks to a Gary Cahill own goal.
The turning point of the game was in the 56th minute, when Kevin de Bruyne missed from two yards out, failing to convert Jesus Navas’ excellent cross. From that moment onwards, Chelsea rallied and equalised after an hour when Diego Costa, brilliant all game, outmuscled Nicolas Otamendi and smashed low past Bravo. They then went ahead 10 minutes later when Willian raced clear and beat the City keeper with ease.
Eden Hazard completed a very impressive win for Chelsea with another goal from a superb counter attack, showing an absolutely ridiculous amount of pace to get away from Kolarov and finish confidently to secure the 3 points.
Chelsea’s turnaround since the 3-0 loss at Arsenal in September has been remarkable – with 8 successive wins and two goals conceded since that loss, they have gone 3 points clear at the top of the Premier League and look very tough to beat in this 3-5-2 formation which boss Antonio Conte has perfected in his years as a manager. However, the performance in Manchester on Saturday is their most powerful statement to date and has set down a real marker of just how seriously people should be taking them this season. Even during the periods of City domination on Saturday, they showed a resilience and and ruthlessness which has not been seen for a long time which is making this Chelsea side resemble the real deal. They also have their world class players performing at a level in which is winning them games single handedly – Costa and Hazard both have been unplayable at times this season and will be contenders for player of the year if they continue.
With no European competitions to worry about midweek, the squad, littered with players who won the league so comfortably under Mourinho in 2014, are fresh and properly prepared every week.
For every positive comment that is being made about Conte and his Chelsea side, there are also people starting to question Guardiola and his Manchester City team. Under the Spaniard, you are guaranteed to see the majority of the possession and an absolute confidence in a style of play which has won so many trophies before, flowing through every player in every position. However, it is the defence which is proving to be their Achilles heel and the game against Chelsea ruthlessly exposed that. For all of the possession, creation and movement, if you cannot defend, you will not win games. There is a feeling at the club currently that no matter how well City are playing, their defence will always give you chances – look at Stones against Southampton last month, for example. Guardiola has been linked with defensive reinforcements, with Leonardo Bonucci and Virgil Van Dijk looking the most likely ones to come in, and the manner in which the current defenders were so exposed on Saturday now makes this signing a priority. Pep showed how unpleased he was with his defenders as Willian scored on Saturday and his displeasure will surely take the form of reinforcements, maybe as early as January. Otamendi in particular is a worry – Diego Costa bullied him for the duration of the game and by the end, the Argentinian would have been glad to see Costa substituted before the end.
It was a game of immense quality, played at a frantic tempo and even had a bit of bite throughout; with tempers boiling over at the end resulting in Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho both seeing red cards for violent conduct. The loss of Aguero in particular will be a huge blow to Manchester City – his two footed kung-fu kick style tackle on David Luiz one of the worst seen for a very long time.
Elsewhere in the league
There were goals galore in the Premier League this weekend, with Tottenham and Arsenal both scoring 5 each as they beat Swansea and West Ham respectively. Liverpool threw away a 3-1 lead away to Bournemouth to lose ground on Chelsea at the top of the table. Down at the bottom, Sunderland picked up a third in in 4 with a 2-1 win over Leicester, Hull continue their abysmal form with a 1-0 defeat to Middlesbrough and Palace find breathing space with a 3-0 win over Southampton, providing some much needed relief to under fire boss Alan Pardew.
Match Day 14 results
Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea
Crystal Palace 3-0 Southampton
Stoke 2-0 Burnley
Sunderland 2-1 Leicester
Tottenham 5-0 Swansea
West Brom 3-1 Watford
West Ham 1-5 Arsenal
Everton 1-1 Man United
Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool
Middlesbrough 1-0 Hull