Conte defends defensive Chelsea

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MANCHESTER — It wasn’t the fact that Chelsea lost at Manchester City on Sunday, it was the way they lost.

Antonio Conte‘s reigning champs have surrendered their Premier League title in a fashion which is now becoming increasingly embarrassing.

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At this stage last season they were 16 points better off than this season and with Conte’s men now five points off the top four, narrow back-to-back defeats at Manchester United and now Man City do not tell the whole story.

They had just 29 percent possession at City, lined up in a 5-4-1 formation with Eden Hazard as the false nine, and failed to have a shot on target in their 1-0 defeat. The scoreline didn’t tell the whole story as City cruised to victory with Conte yelling “stay, stay!” at his team throughout.

Chelsea’s defensive display against Barcelona in their recent UEFA Champions League clash looked like an attacking masterclass compared to this performance. You’d expect a midtable team to go to City and show this lack of attacking threat, but not Chelsea. Not the reigning champions.

With strikers Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud sat on the bench, the first of whom wasn’t introduced until 12 minutes from time, Willian, Pedro and Hazard were once again tasked with playing up top.

Hazard cut a frustrated figure as he trudged off the pitch in the 90th minute to be replaced by Morata and didn’t glance in Conte’s direction as no handshake was offered. Hazard’s miserable demeanor summed up yet another abject display against a top team, with Chelsea winning just one of their five games away at the current top six this season.

Speaking after the game, Conte admitted that four defeats in five games isn’t good enough and admitted City showed just how far ahead of his team they are.

“We must have big regrets for the defeats against Bournemouth, Watford, United, but not today. I think today they showed the difference between them and us in this moment,” Conte said. “25 points is a big gap and I think that we can have regret for the other games but not for this because I think the effort of the players was an important effort. When you play against Manchester City, this kind of team, they are showing fantastic quality but at the same time fantastic mentality. When you match quality and mentality you become unstoppable.”

City were unstoppable but Chelsea were called “embarrassing” and their tactics branded a “crime against football” by pundits on Sky Sports in the UK.

Conte hit back at his critics.

“Yeah, but I think you have to accept every criticism but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0,” Conte said. “If I remember well, two days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticize Wenger a lot because they concede three goals in only 30 minutes. The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”

There was nothing stupid about the way Man City performed as Pep Guardiola‘s men passed Chelsea into oblivion and set yet another new record in this record-breaking season. City are on track to set the highest points tally in PL history, score the most goals in a single season and have the biggest winning margin in history.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about City’s record-breaking 902 passes completed, the highest number by a PL team since Opta started collecting the stats in the 2003/04 season, Guardiola wore a beaming smile as his ideals are now clearly embedded within his players.

“We try to play with the ball. We try with our power like a team. Sometimes it is more complicated when teams are aggressive. They were so organised today, it is like they play against Barcelona in the Champions League,” Guardiola said. “We spoke to move the ball quick, one or two touches, and control the counter attack from Hazard and Pedro because they are so good at it. Now we need three or four victories to be champions.”

There is a ruthless mentality about Man City that we associated with Chelsea under Conte last season.

Chelsea’s aura of invincibility disappeared long ago and this abject attacking displayed was perhaps the lowest point of their campaign as it proved just how far the reigning champs have fallen.

Conte’s time appears almost up as Guardiola’s City showcased exactly why they are worthy champions by easing by a lackluster and, at times, frightened Chelsea.