Date: 4th March 2018 at 10:27pm
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Reigning Champions Chelsea paraded themselves at the Etihad, but they looked more like chumpions as their want-away beleaguered manager Antonio Conte brought them along to avoid defeat, as one would expect from the likes of, and no disrespect to, the likes of say West Brom, Newcastle, Crystal Palace et al.

One by one the Premier League dominoes have arrived to protect what they started with and one by one they have found themselves on the wrong end of the result. It was to be no different for Chelsea.

Their fans thought so too. Yes, they sold their full entitlement of just short of 3,000 tickets but only around 2,400 could be bothered to present themselves at the home of interplanetary football. They played five across the back, four across the middle and Hazard alone up top, forced to forage for scraps as do the lone strikers of those seeking to avoid relegation. The mentality of their manager was likewise. Accepting from the off that whatever tools Conte had at his disposal, it wasn’t enough to dent the real Blues Rolls Royce, it was backs-to-the-wall-stuff from a team that last season won the title with ease. Belief was not at the forefront of their mind as City hit the front foot and pinned them back into their own third and it was something of amazement that the Blues did not penetrate in the first half.

There was no messing nor respect from City and they beat Chelsea into submission. Ederson was restored in goal with Walker, Otamendi, Laporte and Zinchenko in front. Gundogan deputised for Fernandinho, missing his first match of the season. He had De Bruyne and Silva in the engine room with him and with Sterling still injured, Bernardo. Aguero, in search of his 200th goal for City, and Sane provided the artillery.

Chelsea had no answer to anything other than to block and crock, working hard to keep their goal intact and simply being passed to death by an effervescent City, winners of the Carabao Cup last weekend, who were in no mood at all to let their standards slip.

The possession built up, corners built up, shots on goal built up and with it all some exceptional football. Azpilicueta was the backbone of a team defending for its life and it was he who cleared off the line, behind Courtois after a blistering run and shot by Sane looked goalbound. It could and should have been game over by half time as everyone of the forward six, Gundogan excepted, had adequate opportunities to score but it was more like Crystal Palace away than Chelsea at home. It was astonishing that Oliver Hardy, the referee, allowed Rudiger 4 fouls before finding a yellow card whereas Zinchenko and Gundogan collected theirs at the first time of asking. Zinchenko’s was for a lean tackle that VAR might have produced a different outcome.

Somehow the Londoners survived until half time at 0-0, but immediately the doors opened for the second half, the walls came tumbling down. And, when it came it was a tale of two Silvas. David provided the pinpoint assist and Bernardo’s slightly mishit shot bamboozled Courtois and found its way into the back of the net. Since arriving as substitute in the ill-fated match at Anfield, where he scored one and made another, the improvement in the hunger of this footballer is incredible. I love the way that with his control and the way he carries his body when he receives the ball, he often finds himself with five options. Walker back down the line, Silva or De Bruyne across midfield, Aguero in the middle or a shot on goal.

One would have thought that this would have sparked Chelsea into some kind of life, but no, they stuck rigidly to the task of losing 1-0. City maybe ought to have added to their lead, but with Chelsea lacking any kind of appetite to seek an equaliser, there was no real need to bust a gut.

City strolled through the remainder of the match without incident, without trial, without tribulation. Conte did not see fit to try for a leveller until he brought on Giroud ten minutes from time and then Morata two minutes from time. That he took his playmaker-in-chief, Hazard, and this season’s best player, Willian off told the story. City survived the one chance that Chelsea created and the three points were in the bag.

The Blues are showing no sign of giving anyone a chance, but it looks as though the moving of the Brighton match, due to their FA Cup involvement, will deprive City of winning the title in the Stretfords most horrific nightmare, unless of course other results for them contrive to change the course.

With a Champions League intervention on Wednesday, then Stoke away on Monday, it will be feet up for a few days in Abu Dhabi before we play Everton and Stretford on the final furlong to the winning line. It is now well in sight and although the players are taking the proverbial one match at a time, the fans believe. Even the cynics.

 

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