Premier League 2018-19: Clinical Manchester City drub Chelsea to go to the top of the table
Highly contrasting performances from the two sides. While one was extremely well-organized and relentless, the other increasingly lacked synchronization and hunger. Manchester City did everything one could ask of them, and, in the process, handed Chelsea their worst defeat in the league since conceding seven goals against Nottingham Forest, back in 1991.
Chelsea desperately lacked the desire as Pep Guardiola’s side poured through their lackluster and panicked ranks, the counterattacks carrying all the bite and incision their London rivals have lacked since last autumn, sensing little to no resistance en route. As has been the case for a long period of time now, Chelsea are only ever one concession from a collapse. Once again here, the same point was advanced as the Etihad witnessed one of the most bizarre, intriguing, high on incident, and once in a blue moon opening 25 minutes of the season.
Before the start, every Chelsea fan sort of was pinning their hopes on the Chelsea defense to step up in order to complete a double over the champions. To put it in a different perspective, most of them were worried about the vulnerability of the backline. And, rightly so, it was made to look flimsy by City’s front three and a tigerish midfield.
Marcos Alonso’s listlessness is something Chelsea fans are getting used to at the moment. Not only he is unable to meet his defensive duties, but also lacking the penetration and attacking flair which helped him rise through the ranks early in his career. Regarding the first goal though, apart from City’s brilliantly worked set-piece routine, Chelsea’s left-back was to be partially blamed.
The Spaniard had gone inside the box while Kevin de Bruyne slid Silva free on the Chelsea right, who absolutely unmarked, darted to the byline and turned a cross back into the danger area. With Chelsea unable to clear their lines, Raheem Sterling came charging in to blast home and open the scoring. However, when four minutes later, Aguero missed an open goal, not many would have imagined the kind of scoreline at the final whistle.
The Argentine redeemed himself almost immediately though, with undoubtedly the best goal of the evening. Cutting inside, from 25 yards out, the shot arced into the top corner off the fingertips of a flying Kepa Arrizabalaga. And, it was a dizzying blur at times, for Chelsea as they were finding it exceedingly difficult to get to grips with City’s approach play.
With the kind of form City are in at the moment, luck is definitely to come in tandem. A ridiculous moment for Chelsea and perhaps a bit of a brain-fade for Ross Barkley. David Luiz, in a bid to clear the lines, headed the ball out only for the Englishman to head it back into the box.
It was as if Barkley contrived to present Aguero with a second wrapped in red ribbon, and with the ball landing tantalizingly in front of an indecisive Kepa, Aguero just had to swing his boot to collect one of the easiest goals of his career.
There was something magical about City tonight as if everything they seemed to touch were turning to gold (goal). This time Chelsea semi-cleared the ball only as far as Gundogan, who too got himself on the score-sheet, scoring from outside the box. And, City were 4-0 up within 25 minutes, taking their goals tally of the season to 118- most by any team in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
As Sarri has often complained, it is only after conceding that his players feel the urge to bring out the best. Rightly so, Chelsea’s response to going four goals down was strong, but one, it was too late and two, they lacked penalty area ruthlessness.
Pedro squandered perhaps his side’s most inviting opportunity of the evening, and Higuain’s volley from outside the box was tipped over by Ederson. Both teams had equal amounts of possession, the only difference being the visitors lacked the creativity or wit to conjure up chances.
They were evidently wilting in the face of City’s slick passing and movement and an unusually accomplished retention of possession. Surprisingly, and taking nothing away from the hosts, every time Chelsea intercepted, the ball, some way or the other, ended up at the feet of a home player itself.
Nonetheless, the frantic early exchanges seemed to have a morale-sapping effect on the visitors as they were either too lazy to release the ball or making a heavy touch every now and then. The fact that Chelsea could muster just a solitary shot on target in the second half spoke volumes of the home team's dominance.
Even the normally impressive Cesar Azpilicueta was being outrun time and again by Sterling on the left. The Englishman’s scintillating performance issued Chelsea a harsh reminder about the level of artistry that is required to harbor authentic title aspirations. A difficult, elusive opponent, his scuttling energy would hardly be quelled by Chelsea as he looked in his prime - rampaging up and down the flank, cutting infield and almost making it a business to enter the penalty area.
It was the same combination that allowed Aguero to complete a well-deserved hat-trick. Sterling was cutting inside when Azpilicueta was inevitably late on the challenge, leaving Aguero to deceive Kepa and draw level with Alan Shearer for the most hat-tricks in Premier League history (11). With 160 Premier League goals to his name, once again man of the match, Sergio Aguero, also became City’s all-time record scorer in the Premier League, going past Eric Brook and Tommy Johnson’s tally of 158 goals each.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, handed his first start since the turn of the year, too had a telling contribution. His combination play with Sterling on the left, highlighted by the overlapping runs, really augurs well for City, considering the tough run of fixtures ahead.
Raheem Sterling started the riot and he would end it as well. David Silva replaced the stoic and gritty Fernandinho, and made an immediate impact. The Spaniard played Zinchenko into space on the left, behind Chelsea’s substitute Loftus-Cheek, and Sterling would latch on to the Ukrainian’s pull-back to cap off a memorable victory.
The standing ovation began with two minutes from time as Maurizio Sarri was left fuming at the mess he witnessed the whole evening. So much so that at full time, the Italian disappeared down the tunnel, without looking up, without even shaking the extended arms of Pep Guardiola.
The visitors’ goal difference had taken such a pounding by the end that they had even slipped behind Arsenal in the table. Yet they will also know it could well have been a more emphatic victory for City on the balance of play, had Aguero not missed that open goal and nodded de Bruyne’s cross against the crossbar in the second half.
But, as it was, the match ended with City back to the summit and that, more than anything, shows the different directions in which these clubs are traveling.