Man City B beat Chelsea in darkest hour before a dawn of fighting for second while Guardiola remains
The last time Chelsea were sh*t they won the league the next season. But Chelsea weren’t *this* sh*t, nor were the Premier League title winners *this* good.
Mauricio Pochettino won’t be able to get any iteration of Chelsea, with the swathes of summer changes, improved attitude, actual tactics and a pre-season of work in mind, anywhere near City’s level next season. In three seasons? Maybe. But more than likely, as Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag are also now facing as a reality, Pochettino will be waiting for Pep Guardiola to leave to level the playing field.
The Manchester City B team came out on top against Chelsea on an afternoon in which Guardiola decided to rest the majority of his first team stars with two finals in mind, though anyone watching could have been forgiven for thinking he had deemed Chelsea unworthy of sharing a football pitch with them.
Cesar Azpilicueta, who must be cursing his decision not to leave Chelsea last summer, will now be reaching for his joint meds after an afternoon chasing the heels of Cole Palmer, while Jack Grealish sunned himself on the City bench. Kalvin Phillips picked passes from the base of midfield under little to no pressure from Conor Gallagher and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, as Rodri took the afternoon off having made a mockery of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
The drop in quality from Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland to Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez was notable, but not laughable, like the difference beween the trio of City understudies and any player Chelsea can proffer to score goals.
Raheem Sterling, having clapped the teammates he would have joined a year ago through a guard of honour before kick-off, saw a shot saved by Stefan Ortega when through on goal, before an attempt to set up Kai Havertz moments later bounced harmlessly off his heel. Conor Gallagher saw his header from Lewis Hall’s excellent cross saved via the post.
Wesley Fofana was at fault for City’s goal, passing the ball to no-one in midfield before Palmer picked out Alvarez to control and finish with consummate ease past Kepa Arrizabalaga. But no Chelsea player is immune to the crisis of confidence, with Thiago Silva playing similarly aimless passes, with no clear plan as to how to break the press – unsurprising given the tactic-less manager now at the helm.
Gary Neville said on commentary that Frank Lampard looks as though he hates the Chelsea players, because of their lack of fight or passion, no doubt. Presumably the feeling is mutual, with the players’ hatred of Lampard likely based on his inability to organise or coach. This is as broken a team as we’ve seen in the Premier League.
The players have been waiting for the season to end ever since Lampard returned, with the appointment confirming to them that the club hierarchy had written off this campaign. Lampard’s hopeless, so this season was hopeless. Given City’s state of mind, with the Premier League trophy sitting there waiting to be lifted, this was a game of waiting.
Like they were a crowd hoodwinked into arriving at a gig for the support acts, the atmosphere during the game was non-existent save for a brief – and still irritating – Poznan, along with cheers for first team stars warming up on the touchline.
There were moments of quality from both sides. Sterling – who caused City problems throughout – had another effort cleared off the line, while Phillips’ header at the other end slammed the inside of the post. But it was a game played, in general, at a walking pace, and both sides were perfectly willing to accept that there was little point in trying.
John Stones, Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri all came on in the second half, to give the fans a chance to see their heroes as much as anything, and Chelsea fans will be hoping the side that finished the game for them will look more like their first team next season.
Noni Madueke, Mykhaylo Mudryk and Carney Chukwuemeka came on to serve as a reminder that the future, coached by a proper coach in Pochettino, could be very bright indeed for Chelsea.
The darkest hour is just before the dawn, but it looks set to be a dawn of fighting for second for Chelsea, as Manchester City win a third title on the bounce and their fifth in six seasons under a manager who has evolved his team again this season to put them on the brink of an historic treble, and they show no signs of letting up.
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