Will City’s brilliance force a mass media re-think?
Eating humble pie through gritted teeth is hard enough, but imagine having to masticate on a stunning master-class performance from a Manchester City team you love to hate!
As City served up a sumptuous slice of total football delight, palatable to all but the sourest of rivals, it must have tasted oh so bitter to the likes of Lineker, Shearer, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Humphrey, BT, Match of The Day, Sky, Talkshite and the rest of the putrid pundits and mass media.
On the flip side, City fans could savour the win throughout the two-week international break.
Difficult to swallow for those who loathe and detest what City have brought to the table in recent years, this was arguably their sweetest and most sublime offering – certainly of the Pep Guardiola era – as they systematically devoured every last morsel of Chelsea’s status as Champions of England.
Deprived of Aguero, Kompany and Mendy, City were widely regarded as the underdogs going into the game, but all the pre-match predictions, including a ‘…solid 2-0 home win’ or a damning, ‘…City haven’t been tested so far this season and will buckle under the threat of Hazard,’ were made to sound rather silly.
Even in mid-match commentary Match of The Day’s, Jonathan Pearce – he who knows everything about nothing – came up with an absolute pearler, claiming City's Kevin De Bruyne was ‘…having a quiet game.’
What’s Pearce’s idea of loud?
Equally as daft was Antonio Conte’s gem that his players were suffering fatigue after doing their job in Madrid on Wednesday night, taking a two-hour flight in First Class from Spain, and then being asked to do their job again, 72-hours later.
Conte’s words started doing the rounds in the wake of Chelsea’s magnificent 2-1 last minute win over Atletico Madrid. The Italian was obviously keen to get his excuses in early.
Maybe Conte didn’t get the memo about big teams playing every three days or so – it’s easy to overlook the fact when you’ve coasted through a domestic season with no European distractions and very few first team injuries.
Sarcasm and irony apart, this was a stupendous show from City completely deserving of the football cliché that the opposition were ‘murdered 1-0’.
From back to front, left to right and everything in between, City dominated with pace, precision and a relentless high pressing, archetypal Pep Guardiola game.
There’s lies, damned lies and statistics but the only number that belied the occasion was City scoring just a solitary goal.
With 62% possession, 17 shots compared to Chelsea’s 4 and De Bruyne’s howitzer of a winner, City’s show of strength must’ve been terrifying for the rest of the Premier League.
Remarkably, it was Guardiola’s first win over Chelsea in eight attempts (excluding penalty shootouts) somewhat surprising given his Barcelona and Bayern Munich pedigree.
The Bayern-Chelsea connection has also been evident recently when ex-Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti was sacked by the German champions, having previously been fired from Stamford Bridge.
Strange that Munich should get rid of a manager, after all aren’t we always told Pep was a fraud in Bavaria, all he had to do was turn up, wear lederhosen, wield a beer stein and he’d win the Bundesliga three times on the trot?
Trophy wise, Guardiola has won diddly-squat in England after managing 45 Premier League games. It’d take a brave/foolish man to bet that situation will remain after the Catalan genius has presided over 76 top flight English matches.
The straw-clutchers will point to Pep’s 10 game winning start last season and the subsequent downturn in results, but there’s a huge difference. This is now Pep’s team, not the ageing and jaded corps of players he inherited from Manuel Pellegrini.
City’s excellent summer recruitment drive and Guardiola’s innate ability to coach optimum effort and outputs from his players are defining differentiators.
De Bruyne is the man of the moment, a playmaker and goal taker, rightly lauded by Pep as ‘…one of the best players I’ve ever seen.’
KDB has 12 assists and three goals in his last 17 Premier League games, not forgetting his 20 yard Champions League strike to shatter Shakhtar Donetsk a week ago.
The 26-year old Belgian typifies why top players want to play for Pep – KDB is firmly on track to achieve ‘world class’ status under Guardiola’s tutelage.
Given time, the same will doubtless be true of Ederson, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and who knows, maybe even John Stones?
Sane and Jesus, along with Raheem Sterling, formed a triumvirate in SW6, abuzz with speed, movement and touch, but tellingly, always working tirelessly, denying Chelsea time and space.
They’re young and they’re learning to play the right way – Pep’s way.
Ederson, at just 24 years, is exactly the same, a great shot stopper, commanding at corners, a sweeper keeper, jet-heeled off his line and comfortable on the ball with pinpoint accuracy of distribution.
He’s already drawing favourable comparisons with one of Pep’s former keepers, Manuel Neuer at Bayern, and justifiably so.
Along with Jesus, Fernandinho and Danilo, Ederson is one of a burgeoning bunch of Brazilians at the Etihad, a quartet ready to welcome an honorary ‘countryman’ from downtown Bradford – a certain Fabianho.
The transformation of Fabian Delph in the space of a fortnight has been as delightful just as it’s been nothing short of amazing.
Popular and easy going, Delph has stepped up as the most unlikely of left backs after Mendy’s serious knee injury.
Man of the Match against Shakhtar, the 27-year old combined with fellow Yorkshireman, Kyle Walker, to play as inverted full backs as Guardiola outwitted Conte.
Why would you have Delph and Walker out wide when you can deploy City’s best creative talents, De Bruyne and Silva to exploit both space and opportunity?
Sane and Sterling pushed high and wide pinning Alonso and Azpilicueta back, thereby nullifying Chelsea’s ability to attack down the flanks, but equally preventing the wide defenders getting to De Bruyne and Silva.
Delph and Walker dropped infield to support Fernandinho in the central midfield, rendering Hazard & Co to something less than remotely dangerous.
This was Pep at his tactical best, now armed with higher calibre players, younger, fitter, faster with the intelligence to understand his vision and ability to execute his on-field strategies.
As much as City fans reveled in last season’s headline victories, the 2-1 Manchester derby win, finally getting the better of Barcelona 3-1 and that sensational 5-3 rollercoaster with Monaco, this 1-0 statement of intent at Stamford Bridge is the most significant of the Pep era.
The sheer panache, power and patience integral to this triumph, demonstrated how Guardiola has accelerated evolution into revolution at the Etihad.
True lovers of football will appreciate City’s stylish approach and play, millions of viewers will tune in to soak up the majestic brilliance of the Blue side of Manchester and ‘neutrals’ will like what they see.
Who knows, it could even transform City into the 'mainstream' and make the TV companies, radio stations and red top media think twice about alienating a rapidly growing audience of admirers?
Guardiola won’t be content with simply sustaining standards, he’ll demand continual improvement, in his quest to set City apart, not just in the Premier League, but also the Champions League.
It’s a mouthwatering prospect for City fans and one for others to chew over in the coming weeks, months and years.
By David Walker