The Blues were under absurd pressure in the first-half but rode it out to take a huge lead against the run of play late in the half. In the second half they were on a more even footing and doubled their lead to knock City off the top of the league. What did we learn?
1. Kanté validates Sarri
“Kanté should be at the base of midfield!” “he’s a DM!” ” JORGINHO CAN’T TACKLE!” These and more were the kind of strange things being parroted by pundits and fans of late as N’Golo Kanté has struggled to play in his new box-to-box role.
No one thought, of course, that Kanté was merely adapting to a new position and would just need time. Against Chelsea, the loveliest footballer on the planet (at the least he’s top 3) very much looked like he knew exactly how to play as a box-to-box midfielder.
Kanté was at his rampaging best against Manchester City. Sure he was mostly just chasing the ball, but he did it fairly well. And then in the closing moments of the first-half he showed just what he can do when unleashed to run forward. When Eden Hazard played a hopeful cutback to the edge of the box no City player was marking Kanté because, well, he’s Kanté.
N’Golo Kanté isn’t the greatest footballer in the world but he does have serious ability, and he struck Hazard’s cross with such a superb combination of power and control, guiding it high into the roof of the net and giving Chelsea an improbable lead. He then proceeded to run the break with relentless energy, repeatedly rampaging up the right-flank and causing City no end of problems.
2. City show the value of strikers
Manchester City were absurdly dominant in the first half. They were repeatedly pushing Chelsea back, forcing them into their own half as they utterly dominated possession and had an absurd amount of dominance over the tempo of the match.
Yet they weren’t really creating a lot of chances. Half-chances, sure, but they only ended the half with one shot on target. Part of the problem was that when they got the ball into promising positions, instead of taking a shot, they took a touch.
Countless attacks broke down because City, in particular Leroy Sané, were unduly hesitant in front of goal. The strikerless front three really could have used, well, a striker. Someone with the desire to shoot quickly. All these wingers didn’t have the killer instinct of a Sergio Aguero, or even an in-form Gabriel Jesus.
3. Azpilicueta is The Black Hole
César Azpilicueta was nicknamed “Dave” by the Chelsea players, for some reason. Not only is that nickname wholly lacking in originality but it doesn’t do him justice. Azpilicueta should be nicknames after the only thing in the natural world that describes his skills: The Black Hole.
In the first half, City threw Leroy Sané at him. In the second half, City threw Raheem Sterling at him. Both times neither man got much of anything when taking him on 1v1. Sure, both men beat him a couple times but he nearly always got back at them to make a recovery tackle or block – in the end he finished with a terrifying 13 tackles made. Thirteen! That is ludicrous. He was as unrelenting as a black hole, and is surely the best defensive full-back on the planet.
4. David Luiz is irreplaceable
Midweek, Chelsea lost 2-1 to Wolves. No, seriously, that happened. If you are wondering how or why, then just look at Chelsea’s back-line for the game. César Azpilicueta? Check. Marcos Alonso? Check. Antonio Rudiger? Check. David Luiz? No.
Wait, no? That’ll be the reason they lost, then.
David Luiz is an easy target because he can make big blunder or two, but he is fundamental to the Chelsea side because not only is he actually a pretty damn good defender for most of the time (he was great against City, constantly clearing crosses and blocking routes to goal) but he is a resplendent footballer and essential to the way Chelsea attack.
For the first goal, it was David Luiz’s raking 40 yard diagonal pass that cut City open and started the move which, a few passes later, resulted in Chelsea’s shock opener. And for the second goal, well, he scored the second goal with a deft header. David Luiz may be an easy target for jokes but he is absolutely essential to any and all Chelsea success under Sarri.
5. Football makes no sense
Manchester City have been superhuman all season. Smashing everyone before them. Even their close wins weren’t close matches. They played the most spectacular football the division had ever seen. So much movement, pace and intelligence. And the goals! So many goals despite missing their best players (Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero) for extended chunks of things.
Yet a Liverpool side who have barely got a handful of good league performances to their name have not only kept pace with them all the way, but are now top of the table because City came to a Chelsea side to whom they are wholly superior and put in an impotent display, losing 2-0 despite a first-half that should have ended with a score of 1-4 or something.
As a great man once said: football, bloody hell!