MANCHESTER — Manchester City continued their procession towards the Premier League title as Pep Guardiola‘s side beat Chelsea 1-0 to seal a 14th consecutive home league win and increase their lead atop the table to 18 points.
[ MORE: Conte defends Chelsea ]
The lone goal of the game came seconds in the second half with Bernardo Silva slotting home, as Antonio Conte‘s set his Chelsea side up in an ultra-defensive system and they never looked like getting anything from this game. The reigning champs were outclassed by the champions elect.
Here’s what we learned from the Etihad Stadium as City edged closer to the title.
CITY COAST TO YET ANOTHER VICTORY
With four more wins needed to secure the Premier League title, Man City can be excused for easing to the trophy.
Their 1-0 win against Chelsea should have been by a far more comfortable scoreline but Guardiola’s men didn’t need to force the issue as they cantered to their 25th win in 29 games. Just as they did at Arsenal on Thursday, City dispatched a top six side easily and at times in the second half they were at walking pace as the knocked the ball around and created chances whenever they wanted to.
City had 71 percent of the possession and 13 shots to Chelsea’s three and this was one of the easiest 1-0 victories you will ever see.
Guardiola’s side are in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday with their last 16 tie against FC Basel all but over after a 4-0 first leg win in Switzerland. That means City can rest players in midweek before they face Stoke City next Monday.
City want to get the PL title wrapped up as soon as possible and you feel as though they’re playing with the handbrake on. They’re that good they could stick the car in reverse and win at a canter.
At times Chelsea threatened on the counter in the second half, but any slackness from City was followed up an attack which nearly lead to a goal. City will be worthy champions when it is all confirmed, and once again they dominated a rival with incredible ease.
CHELSEA CHECKING OUT
“Stay! Stay! Stay!” that was the word bellowed time and time again by Antonio Conte in the first half as he urged his Chelsea team to stay tight in what often resembled a 5-4-1 formation.
They didn’t muster a single shot on target during an awful display.
Much like their recent draw with Barcelona in the Champions League, Conte set Chelsea up not to lose as Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard were the three forwards and Hazard was particularly frustrated as the false nine.
Balls were hoofed up to Hazard time and time again, with the Belgian wizard looking to the heavens in disgust. In midfield the loss of N'Golo Kante through injury left Conte without a true defensive midfielder as Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas struggled to contain City’s fluid attack and provide a substantial shield for the back three.
In attack there were ironic cheers from City’s fans whenever Chelsea got a corner and they looked devoid of confidence on the ball with so many needless giveaways.
It appears that Chelsea’s players are checking out and Conte continues to underwhelm as the Blues have now lost four of their last five games in the Premier League. Five points off the top four with nine games to go, Chelsea only play two of the current top six (Tottenham and Liverpool) in the final months of the season and you wouldn’t bet against them going on a run which sees them creep back into the top four.
However, the manner of narrow defeats at Man United and Man City in the past two weekends has summed up just how far Conte’s side have regressed since they were crowned Champions of England last May. The Blues have won just once in five games away at the big six this season, while for the first time in 14 years they have lost four-straight games away from home in all competitions.
All of that adds up to an unhappy dressing room…
HAZARD’S ATTITUDE SUMS UP CHELSEA’S PLIGHT
Eden Hazard trudged off the pitch as he was replaced by Alvaro Morata in the 90th minute on Sunday.
He didn’t shake hands with Conte and looked miserable in the pouring rain in Manchester. He looked that way all afternoon.
The Belgian forward did not look happy at being asked to play in a false nine position once again, with long balls lumped forward towards him and Hazard throwing his hands in the air whenever that happened.
A moment in the second half summed up how Hazard and his Chelsea teammates didn’t appear to enjoy playing in Conte’s defensive style.
Hazard tried a clever flick 40 yards from his own goal and gifted the ball straight back to Man City and his manager stood with his arms out as he questioned Hazard’s actions.
They’ve now got a mountain to climb just to finish in the top four, plus reach the last eight of the Champions League, and Hazard will continue to be linked with a move to Real Madrid as his attitude summed up the cloud hanging over Chelsea right now.
This all seems incredibly familiar to the way Hazard and Co. checked out when Jose Mourinho deployed extreme defensive tactics back in the 2015-16 season.