Maurizio Sarri had no time for niceties.
The Italian dodged a post-match handshake with Pep Guardiola and immediately ducked into the guts of the Etihad Stadium following Sunday’s 6-0 humiliation to Manchester City. After a performance like that, the Chelsea manager was presumably on a mission to remove batteries from the away dressing room’s smoke detectors.
Sergio Aguero bagged another treble – he is now level with Alan Shearer for most Premier League hat-tricks (11) – Raheem Sterling bookended the scoring with a brace, and Ilkay Gundogan put City four-nil ahead after only 25 minutes with an effort outside the area.
It was far too easy for the hosts. Chelsea had nothing.
But what exactly went wrong for Sarri’s Blues? Here are three reasons Chelsea were decimated by the reigning champions of England.
Failure to do the basics
Manchester City scored their 14th and 15th goals in the first 15 minutes of Premier League matches during Chelsea’s visit. The next-most prolific teams in the opening quarter of an hour this season, Manchester United and Arsenal, have just seven apiece in that timeframe.
Given City’s impatience, Chelsea switching off when Kevin De Bruyne stood over a free-kick on the edge of their defensive third was inexcusable. The game was only four minutes old.
De Bruyne quickly slid the ball into a vast chasm down the right only occupied by Bernardo Silva. Marcos Alonso wasn’t at his desk – he was idly chatting at the water cooler with Chelsea’s central defenders – and Eden Hazard should be apportioned a significant slice of the blame due to his failure to stand in front of the ball and delay De Bruyne’s set piece.
The result was Antonio Rudiger and N’Golo Kante both scrambling after Sergio Aguero, Cesar Azpilicueta tracking Ilkay Gundogan, and Pedro watching helplessly from afar as Raheem Sterling arrived late and undetected to fire past Kepa Arrizabalaga. Nobody knew what they were doing, and it was all down to a brief lapse in concentration.
A 4-3-3 with Jorginho as the regista and Kante as a confused No. 8. The only surprise in Maurizio Sarri’s lineup was a start for Ross Barkley, a player whose inability to grasp tactics has arguably been a bigger hindrance than injuries to his career.
Guardiola, on the other hand, changed it again. Against Arsenal last week, he was aware of how dangerous Unai Emery’s side can be when they swiftly bypass the midfield, so Fernandinho repeatedly dropped into the backline to keep tabs on Alexandre Lacazette. Against Chelsea, a team that tries to control matches through the short passing of Jorginho, City instead sought numerical advantages in the middle.
Oleksandr Zinchenko expertly moved inside from his left-back berth to ensure there were four men to Chelsea’s three, and the excellent Bernardo Silva intermittently mucked in from his position on the right flank. It was that simple to stifle Sarri’s plan. City were in charge from the first whistle.
The last time Chelsea conceded four or more in back-to-back away top-flight matches, Kerry Dixon was in his prime and their main source of goals. He will celebrate his 58th birthday in the summer.
Chelsea are on pace to miss out on Champions League qualification in two straight seasons for the first time since Roman Abramovich took over in 2003.
Sarri is in trouble, and it’s his own fault.
Pep’s exhaustive pursuit of perfection
For many managers, Aguero’s Premier League season hauls of 23, 12, 17, 26, and 24 would’ve been enough. Not for Guardiola.
The Spanish tactician lit a fire under Aguero’s backside with the signing of Gabriel Jesus. If he didn’t improve, there was another pricey poacher waiting in the ranks.
And how he’s improved since Guardiola’s 2016 arrival. Aguero was occasionally detrimental to City in big matches while he was marooned up front, but under Guardiola, he’s now involved in more phases of play. He creates inroads with the way he moves wide or deep – 21 of his 36 touches were 30 yards or more away from Chelsea’s goal – and makes space by intelligently drawing players before releasing the ball.
But Guardiola still wants more:
Guardiola’s testing, tweaking, and obscenely high standards have sparked improvements from the majority of City’s players under his watch. That includes players – like Aguero, David Silva, and Fernandinho – that you wouldn’t have thought needed to.
Worryingly for Liverpool, one of the obvious individual improvements seen against Chelsea was from De Bruyne. City’s Player of the Year from last season is nearing his best after some injury issues, just as the title run-in comes into view.