Manchester City show Chelsea there is no top two or top three in the Premier League – only a top

The title race is now over, apparently. You know, the one that ended a few weeks ago. Manchester City already looked like they were crowned champions for the fourth time in five years ahead of their twelfth straight league victory. After that, it seems a nailed-down certainty. There is a remote and remote possibility of a challenge from Liverpool, now on 14 points but two games less. It was a reunion of the first two, however, and it only bolstered the theory that there’s actually only one.

That was demonstrated not so much by the result, a narrow 1-0 win delivered by Kevin De Bruyne’s immaculate right foot, but by the way it was achieved. Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel may have had some success against City in the past with the type of cautious and deep approach deployed here. He won a Champions League final, sure, and his dress rehearsal here at the end of last season, but it’s a submissive, compliant setup that reflects the power dynamic between the two sides.

How powerful it is too. This is the ninth run of 12 successive wins in Premier League history. City are responsible for four of them and all four report to Pep Guardiola. The latter puts the champions-elect on track for a 97-point season. But City’s supremacy isn’t just measured in winning streaks and point projections. On the other side of that equation is the sudden absence of any challenge from their rivals and their meltdowns over the past month, that of Chelsea in particular.

It was already the third defeat of the league season for Tuchel’s side, while four was once considered the most potential champions could afford to lose. More importantly, it was the tenth game in which they had dropped points, and the eighth of the last twelve. Chelsea are now on track for a 74-point season. It hasn’t always been enough to finish in the top four in recent years, let alone mount a serious title challenge.

The European champions may theoretically be a bigger title than the English champions, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the way Chelsea set up. It wasn’t anti-football at all, but it was an approach that relied on the best and most complete team in Europe making a mistake. When we say it like that, we see its limits. And yet, he could have come off at points.

There was Romelu Lukaku’s overly touched pass which failed to play Hakim Ziyech in an early counterattack. Ziyech was in a negligent offside position anyway, and was at fault again soon after for another overhanded pass that failed to provide Lukaku properly. The Belgian returned to that troublesome target role again, but inflated his lines when he had the chance to show his running behind prowess, hitting Ederson one-on-one early in the second half. .

Kevin De Bruyne scored a superb winner for Man City

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Kevin De Bruyne scored a stunning winner for Man City

(AFP via Getty Images)

Besides those three goal glimpses, City had the measure of Chelsea’s reactive approach, particularly down the left side of their visitors where Raheem Sterling was a constant nuisance. Malang Sarr was the closest of Chelsea’s three centre-backs to Tuchel for the first 45 minutes and, although he didn’t play particularly badly, was the target of most of his manager’s touchline ravings .

At one point, Tuchel frantically asked Sarr to widen to extend the defensive line. A heavy touch from Sarr then gave the ball to Bernardo Silva. Sarr rushed to try and win the ball back, only to be beaten again, and a few panicked, half-apologetic looks at his manager afterwards. It was one of many moments when Chelsea looked vulnerable, perhaps worried and intimidated, and you had to remember that according to the table they were supposed to be City’s closest competitors.

The truth is City have been operating on a different plane to virtually everyone else for five years now. The only one of Guardiola’s rivals to have ever truly challenged him on a consistent basis once summed up how to do it – or rather, how not to do it. Sitting around and waiting for City to make a mistake is like waiting to ‘win the lottery’, Jurgen Klopp once said. You have to take the game from them, act like their equals, because everything else is an admission of one inescapable fact: they are the best team in the land and will eventually find a way to beat you.

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