Balance. As a supporter of one of the clubs involved at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon it’s something that I shall to try to show in writing this post (amid the fully deserved ribbing I have taken in the past twenty-four hours). It’s also something that the team who won by six goals to nil on Sunday afternoon possess in spades while being an attribute that Maurizio Sarri’s side continue to aimlessly strive for. It wasn’t so much men versus boys when Manchester City played Chelsea, more a case of men with a well developed plan versus men without any idea of how to implicate an continually complicated one.
Bar when they play versus lower league teams or the very worst sides that the premiership has to offer, Manchester City, knowing their own ability don’t usually completely destroy their opponents. At times this season it’s seemed like their foot has not been firmly on the accelerator for some season yet by the 25th minute they already caused shocked and embarrassed away supporters to begin making their trip back down south much earlier than expected. Two second half goals shoved into salt into a gaping Chelsea wound and by the end, Sarri-ball had produced Chelsea’s largest ever defeat in the premiership era.
Before giving the predicable post-mortem on an absolutely dire Chelsea showing and its likely implications going forward, it’s only right to praise how Pep’s City showcased they, not Liverpool, are the team to beat in the premiership and you imagine Europe at the moment. After a very bright start from their opponents (for 120 seconds anyway) they exploited Chelsea’s errors in devastatingly ruthless fashion and in truth could have punished Sarri’s team even more than did. In Raheem Sterling, perhaps apart from Harry Kane, they possess England’s best player who seems to keep going from strength to strength under his manager’s positive influence. From the number seven position Sterling already has 12 goals and 9 assists in the league alone and continues brush aside non-football related nonsense by carving himself into one of the world’s best attacking midfielders.
City as a whole were utterly sublime on Sunday, perhaps displaying what Sarri dreams about his current Chelsea side being. Endless pressing coupled with sharp, incisive attacks left even the superhuman N’Golo Kante looking completely knackered by the end of game. Another hat-trick for Sergio Aguero, which just so happened to be his second in the space of the week propelled the City legend to 17 league goals for the season alongside Mo Salah. At the age of 30 the Argentine’s improvement under Guardiola after a difficult start to their relationship underlines the true professional that Aguero is. He now has a record amount of premier league hat-tricks alongside one Alan Shearer and has long been City’s top goalscorer of all time. His trio of goals on Sunday, a superb top-corner curler from outside the box, a clever finish to capitalise on Ross Barkley’s brain fart and a coolly slotted penalty showcased the complete striker that Aguero is. It seems a long time ago when it looked like he was out the door after the arrival of the exciting new talent that was Gabriel Jesus. Now City’s secondary striker will simply have to wait until Aguero stops scoring to grab his chance, which will not happen any time soon.
So City were brilliant and have picked up real momentum of late after looking like they had let the league slip away to Klopp’s Liverpool. But what of their opponents on Sunday?
It’s truly difficult to know where to start. Which is probably the crux of the problem for both Sarri, his team and Chelsea’s supporters. Some will instantly go after Sarri’s stubborn nature when it comes to persisting with a system that seems to be mainly inefficient versus any team that comes up with a decent plan of how to counter it. Jorginho’s role in the team (and obviously N’Golo Kante’s) will be the main scapegoat for such a turgid Chelsea showing. Yet it seems far more complex than that now.
Since the turn of the year, the rigidity in Sarri’s approach has been coupled with abject individual performances away from home and a healthy litter of the most basic of mistakes imaginable. Marcos Alonso’s surreal non tracking of Bernando Silva for City’s first goal on four minutes set the tone and twenty minutes later Chelsea were four down. It doesn’t matter if you play a false nine, false four or false one, as a manager it’s hard to plan effectively when your players are turning in the kind of performances that many did on Sunday. It was an truly awful day for Chelsea and one that obviously brings the manager’s job into question.
In reality nothing there is new, Chelsea managers often come heavy under pressure too early in their reigns and you wouldn’t bet much on Sarri seeing the season let alone his contract out. What is an emerging problem for the club is that the ‘short-termism’ that has brought them so much success is extremely unlikely to work any longer, simply due to the strength of the teams they now are competing against. When Antonio Conte won the league in 2017 in his first season, Pep was still getting to grips with the premiership and Liverpool were a shadow of the force they are now. This green-lighted instant success for Chelsea that is simply not going to happen anymore, unless they inexplicably invest absurd amounts of money into the squad and are able to obtain a manager that can instantly rival Guardiola, Klopp or indeed Pochettino.
So the infamously trigger happy Chelsea board will need to decide what they are going to do. It’s obvious that Sarri will need actual time if he is to be successful with the club and bring the brand of football that the owner apparently craves. It’s easy to forget that Klopp’s and Guardiola’s first seasons at their respectively were not smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination. If Chelsea sack Sarri anytime soon, the next step for the club is not at all clear. They brought him in to counter his defensively minded predecessor and so who knows where the Chelsea roadshow will turn next if Sarri finds the still mobile revolving exit door at Stamford Bridge.
Yet there is another issue for Chelsea fans to worry about, this is not the first time these core group of players have looked unmotivated when playing for the club. Antonio Conte and even Jose Mourinho will tell you that, so Sarri-ball only seems to be part of the issue. It would be harsh to say the players are ‘downing tools’ just yet but there are some who need to simply put more effort and heart into their current performances if they can look back on their Chelsea careers with any lasting pride. With a number of aging players in the squad plus the possible exit of club legend Eden Hazard, this summer will be one of the most important in the club’s history. Whether Sarri is there to oversee it is anyone’s guess and whether he deserves to at this point also remains very much unclear.
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