“Chelsea can never win the league except they do 3 important thing to the club…” Man United legend explains why Chelsea cannot win the league next 4y coming except they do three things.
There are some things money can’t buy – just ask Chelsea.
Manchester City have spent a lot to get where they are, but this was the perfect afternoon to show up any lazy slurs that there aren’t other major factors behind their remarkable success. As if 12th place isn’t embarrassing enough after spending £600m in a year, they offered very little as the weakest team Pep Guardiola has picked all season romped to victory.
Premier League champions again already after Arsenal’s defeat at Nottingham Forest, Coronation Day for City was made all the sweeter for the manner in which the match played out. A starting XI containing nine changes from the Real Madrid game and three academy graduates bossed a far more expensively-assembled Chelsea team to set up the trophy lift that everyone was in attendance for.
It was a lineup that certainly will not have been on the cards before Arsenal’s loss on Saturday and one that would not be backed to win a game with anything on the line; three of the team made their first Premier League starts of the season in an XI averaging under 10 starts between them. It showed too, with some understandable rustiness from Sergio Gomez in defence at the beginning of the game and a lack of communication at times between players who simply aren’t used to being on the pitch.
It didn’t matter though, because even a weakened City team had more about them than a Chelsea side so bad they might actually encourage the people that genuinely believe the Blues have two teams capable of winning the league. Almost a year to the day since he came off the bench to start City’s memorable comeback against Aston Villa to win his fourth Premier League title, what must Raheem Sterling have been thinking on his league return to the Etihad?
From the third minute, when Cole Palmer skinned Cesar Azpilicueta in a sign that he would have the Chelsea captain’s number all game, there only felt to be one team interested in the game. The fans reflected that too, with a partying home crowd in contrast to complete silence from those who had made the trip up from West London.
It did not take long for that disconnect to spread to the scoreboard. Wesley Fofana, a £70m summer signing from Leicester, sprayed a simple ball from centre-back straight to Kalvin Phillips – one of those making their first starts in the league this year – and he nudged it forward for Palmer to feed Julian Alvarez to continue his fine debut season in England.
Unfamiliar faces produced a familiar watch as City dominated possession and chances, with Chelsea so impotent that a Poznan rippled round the stadium before even half-an-hour was up. The many who did turn their backs certainly didn’t miss anything.
The visitors finally managed to spark themselves into action before the break but Sterling saw a shot saved by Stefan Ortega before Conor Gallagher hit the post from a Lewis Hall cross, a wake-up call for City that this match was not as dead as it seemed. They threatened again in the second half, although it was Phillips who came closest to a second goal in the game when his header from a Riyad Mahrez free-kick hit the inside of the post.
The strongest Chelsea resistance came from former Blue Sterling, who battled hard all game against Walker and was unlucky to be denied a goal but did get a standing ovation as he left the pitch. It said a lot about the game though that there was often as much crowd interest in the substitutes warming up as anything on the pitch, with Bernardo Silva, Erling Haaland and Ilkay Gundogan among the players to get a big ovation as they cracked out a few stretches.
This game may have been the last at the Etihad this season but has turned into a warm-up for bigger games to come elsewhere between now and June 10. With the Premier League won, attention has already begun to turn to legs two and three of a potential Treble.
It will still have been a treat for fans to watch local boys Palmer and Lewis look right at home in a City shirt, particularly pleasing for Palmer after a difficult 18 months with injuries, and Alvarez’s goal was the 100th scored at the Etihad this season in all competitions in just 30 games. As far as value for money is concerned, City have given out a lot of bangs for bucks this year.
If it was surprising that Guardiola chose to rest so many players for this game – in doing so, denying Haaland more time to add to his list of victims for the season and equal another record – it also fit firmly into the ethos of the manager. He needs as many players that he can rely on as possible and will always give opportunities to widen the net, but equally challenges the ones coming in to prove him wrong.
It also felt like another marker of the increased confidence in Europe this season for the Blues. City wrapped up the league early in 2021 but lost momentum on the way to the Champions League final and were timid enough against Chelsea in the final that they could have no complaints with losing.
Going into this match on a 23-match unbeaten run, the temptation regardless of the Arsenal result would have been to play a strong team and keep the confidence up. The fact that Guardiola felt able to bring in so many stand-ins speaks to the feeling inside the Etihad about their chances of making history in the next few weeks.
As it was, Chelsea were so bad that the unbeaten and winning runs keep going anyway; it is 12 straight Premier League victories and 24 unbeaten in all competitions. City don’t look like a team or a squad ready to taste defeat before the end of a season set up to be momentous.