LONDON — Manchester City beat Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday as City strengthened their grip on fourth place and reminded the reigning champs just how far they’ve fallen.
[ ANALYSIS: KDB rips Chelsea apart ]
Sergio Aguero scored a hat trick with Kevin De Bruyne putting on a show on his return to Chelsea.
Here’s what we learned from Stamford Bridge.
KDB SHOWS CHELSEA WHAT THEY’RE MISSING
Kevin de Bruyne was sold by Chelsea to Wolfsburg for $25 million in January 2014 after he didn’t fit into Jose Mourinho’s plans and Eden Hazard was in his way. Manchester City bought De Bruyne for $75 million in August 2015 and given his recent form, it is money well spent. De Bruyne missed over two months with injury but since his return City is unbeaten in five and he’s scored three times, including the winning goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal earlier this week.
On Saturday KDB showed Chelsea exactly what they’re missing. In the first half he tore through the heart of Chelsea’s defense on three occasions, cutting in from the right and picking up pockets of space centrally on the break to devastating effect. Sergio Aguero’s goal (his 18 strike in his last 19 starts, by the way) came after a Chelsea corner fell to City and De Bruyne was set free. Not only does the Belgian possess blistering pace but he can pick out the right pass at the right moment. He teed up Aguero perfectly and wheeled away with him in celebration as City led 1-0.
Earlier De Bruyne should have put City ahead as he raced clear down the middle but his international teammate Thibaut Courtois denied him with his feet. After that save, De Bruyne went across to take a corner in front of the Chelsea fans. They gave him a warm round of applause and he acknowledge them. They know what they could have had. De Bruyne reminded them once again emphatically in the second half. With one touch he flicked it past two Chelsea players and raced free just outside his own box. De Bruyne advances to the edge of Chelsea’s box, played in Samir Nasri who teed up Aguero and he finished for his 25th goal this season. Aguero then added another from the penalty spot late on to complete his hat trick and compound Chelsea’s misery.
But again, it was De Bruyne who did all the damage and Chelsea’s decision to let him leave looks like one of the biggest mistakes the club has made in recent history.
BLUES FINISHING WITH A WHIMPER
It was an uneasy, disjointed and uninspiring performance by Chelsea. Interim boss Guus Hiddink looked frustrated on the sidelines, every now and then warmly applauding his players to try and kick them into life. They had flashes of good play with Ruben Loftus-Cheek turning Nicolas Otamendi and flashing a shot in on goal, plus Diego Costa Costa teeing up Pedro but his shot was cleared off the line by Otamendi. But those efforts were fleeting and it’s hardly a shock to see a team with a new manager coming in this summer to be playing with a lack of conviction. Chelsea is costing along in 10th place and they’ve now lost their last two games after going on a 15-game unbeaten run in the PL since Mourinho left in December. Eight of those games were draws and Chelsea have been doing just enough to stay out of the relegation picture following the mess Mourinho left them in.
Due to Leicester’s incredible campaign, the rate at which Chelsea has fallen off this season has been less talked about in recent months than it probably should have. This is a team who coasted to the title and the regression their star men continue to show should be hugely alarming for incoming manager Antonio Conte. Chelsea’s midfield was non-existent as Nasri had two one-on-one’s which Courtois saved and if it wasn’t for their Belgian goalkeeper they would have lost 5-0. Over the summer the rebuilding project should be swift and harsh. The Blues almost treated this game like a preseason friendly and their fans whistled their own players when they kept giving the ball away in front of the back four. The final five games of Chelsea season will all be about getting ready for Conte’s arrival and on this performance, many are playing their way out of his plans.
CITY STRENGTHEN GRIP ON TOP FOUR
KDB and Aguero stole the show but City’s newfound solidity in defense without Vincent Kompany was again apparent. Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi got better as the game wore on and after they shutout Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSG in midweek, they kept another clean sheet at Chelsea.
Otamendi’s timing in the tackle was superb, despite an early mix up with Joe Hart which nearly let in Costa, he looked solid. Mangala seems to play better against better opposition as his passing was more pinpoint and he was smarter when making tackles in the box. Pellegrini now has a big decision to make when City take on Real Madrid in the UCL semifinal on Apr. 26. Kompany is likely to be fit but with Otamendi and Mangala just getting into the swing of things as a partnership, should he switch it up? Kompany is undoubtedly the leader of this defense and City is stronger with him playing but for most of this season he has returned straight away when fit. Now, Pellegrini has a tough decision to make.
With Manchester United winning 1-0 earlier on Saturday, City knew their lead in fourth place was down to just one point. They not only grabbed a big three points to keep the gap with United at four points with five games to go but they put in a performance to show just how worthy they are of a top four finish. They overtook Arsenal, momentarily and sit in third place on 60 points. With the UCL semifinal and places to play for in the team, maybe we will see this streaky City side go on a run between now and the end of the season. If they win all of their remaining games a second place finish isn’t out of the question.