LONDON — Maybe Manchester City aren’t going to stroll to the title again this season…
Chelsea beat Man City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to not only blow the title race open but also breath new life into their own campaign. Pep Guardiola‘s injury hit City were blown away by Chelsea’s press, as the reigning champs had only trailed for 12 minutes all season long before this defeat.
Here’s what we learned from a wild encounter in west London.
FIRED UP CHELSEA KEEP TITLE HOPES ALIVE
Maurizio Sarri said he was “very worried” after Chelsea’s midweek defeat to Wolves. Don’t worry, Maurizio. Things are much better now. Chelsea became the first team to defeat Manchester City in the PL this season, as the Blues beat the reigning champs at their own game on Saturday. Sarri’s men hunted in packs and showed the same hunger they had at the start of the season, as well as the clinical edge. Marcos Alonso recovered from a poor first half, Kante was back on form and so too was Jorginho.
Having Eden Hazard back to his best was a big reason why they defeated City, but Sarri slightly altering his approach paid huge dividends. Choosing to start without a recognized center forward was a masterstroke from the Italian coach, as Hazard, Willian and Pedro pushed high on City’s defenders whenever they could, aided by Kante not far behind them and often in front of them. Chelsea’s bite returned, especially in the second half, and so did their faint hopes of winning the title this season. They are still seven points behind City and eight behind leaders Liverpool, but Chelsea needed this win to prove that Sarri’s project is still moving in the right direction after two defeats from their previous three games. With this victory they also gave Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool hope that City can be stopped this season.
WASTEFUL CITY LOSE UNBEATEN RUN
When Guardiola decided to not start Gabriel Jesus on Saturday it sent out a message to Chelsea: we are going to toy with you. They did just that in the first half, and Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez saw plenty of the ball and created plenty of chances. They failed to take them. Sane, Sterling and Mahrez were all denied in the first half as they tried to pick the perfect pass or finish. Had Sergio Aguero or Kevin De Bruyne been on the pitch, it may well have been a different story. For just the second time this season they fired a blank (the other was at Liverpool) and it was only the fourth time in the last two seasons that City have failed to score in a game.
Yes, injuries are mounting up for Pep all over the pitch and City didn’t have a cutting edge on Saturday which shows just how important Aguero is to them. Gabriel Jesus came on early in the second half, but it was more in desperation than anything else as the goal on half time gave Chelsea all of the momentum and inspired their victory. City’s first defeat of the season came after 23 games last season. They only lost once after that on their way to a record-breaking title win. Guardiola will be hoping this defeat has the same galvanizing effect on his players this season.
CHELSEA DO NOT NEED A NO.9
For Chelsea much of the talk this season has been about whether or not they need to start Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud. Morata wasn’t in the 18-man squad on Saturday, while Giroud came off the bench late on. Hazard was frustrated for most of the first half in a false nine position, throwing his arms in the air when passes didn’t go his way, but with Pedro and Willian buzzing around him they gave City’s defense all kinds of problems and denied them time to play out from the back. Hazard may not enjoy playing in a central striking role, but this performance and the balance it gave Sarri suggests that Chelsea no longer need a No. 9. Playing a 4-3-3 with a false nine in certain games, especially against the top six, is the way forward for the Blues.