Chelsea were just putting their poor start to the season behind them, and then they were played off their own pitch by Manchester City.
Former Chelsea player Kevin De Bruyne scored the only goal of the game, a cracker from outside the box after a one-two with Gabriel Jesus, but the 1-0 scoreline did not fully reflect the gulf in class between City and the reigning champions.
They have already dropped more points at home in the 2016/17 season than they did all of last season. They lacked some resiliency and physicality against Arsenal and were simply out-classed by Man City on Saturday.
Where did it go wrong?
Chelsea had a dramatically different mid-week fixture compared to Man City. They took the long trip to Madrid to face Atlético in a must-win game on Wednesday, while City hosted Shaktar Donetsk on Tuesday. The travel and the 24-hour difference are definitely factors in a poor performance, but they don’t account for the difference in class between the two sides.
Chelsea had just 38% possession and four shots. Those are the kind of stats City were holding Crystal Palace and Watford to, and no offence to those sides but they aren’t trying to compete with City for league position.
After the game Conte didn’t sound overly concerned, saying “I’m pleased with the commitment. Today we gave everything. The most important thing is to see your players gave you everything. We played against a very good team and we created chances but we didn’t take them. City took their chance.”
Only a goal-line clearance by Antonio Rudiger and some terrific work from Thibaut Courtois kept the score down, and if that is Chelsea’s everything, then Conte certainly should be worried because despite a 1-0 scoreline they were well beaten.
Chelsea were out-done by Guardiola spreading his midfield and pinning Chelsea’s wing-backs back, forcing the team to go narrow, and once Alvaro Morata had to be subbed off it was basically over.
Lack of depth a worry
Morata’s injury is hopefully not too lengthy, because Chelsea were lost up front without him. There was no one to hold the ball up and bring the midfield into play. No one for Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard to work off, and very little pressure on City when they had the ball deep.
Morata has already withdrawn from the Spanish squad for the international break, and reportedly came off before the hamstring injury got too bad, but if he is out for an extended period there is no one to replace him in the Chelsea lineup, and that frailty at the top of the team is something that the other championship contenders do not lack. For all the talents of Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane, and Romelu Lukaku, the other title challengers have goals coming from around the squad.
Their second-highest scorer in the Premier League this season is Marcos Alonso with two. Fabregas, David Luiz, Pedro, and N’Golo Kante have one each. That is not a good distribution of goals, and if Morata misses time now or later in the season it will cost Chelsea points.
Chelsea made one unforced change between the side that played in Madrid on Wednesday and the one that played Saturday against City, and that inflexibility will hurt come February and March when the calendar gets even busier.
City will make many teams look weak at the back this season. Rudiger came in for some criticism from commentator Martin Keown during the game, but mostly for his work on the ball rather than off it.
With Kante and now Tiemoue Bakayoko in front of the defence the feeling is that Chelsea should be impenetrable, but any time they are both playing the offensive spark of Willian or Pedro is invariably left out.
Cesar Azpilicueta has been impressive this season, but with David Luiz suspended there have been some cracks in the Chelsea defence as Rudiger tries to bed in. When Luiz is in the lineup there is always the possibility for a moment of madness from the Brazilian, or that he will simply go wandering away from his position.
The solid brickwall that was Chelsea’s defence last season seems to be weaker than ever, and that is an issue as they try to overhaul an early six point deficit.
Chelsea are already adrift and look to be a good distance off the pace that the Manchester clubs and Tottenham are setting. The addition of European football to their schedule is already taxing a thin squad. Chelsea come back from the international break with fixtures against Crystal Palace, Watford, and Bournemouth. Putting in strong performances there will go a long way to assuaging fears about their status this season.
Their championship credentials are severely tarnished after that performance, but we are only in October and there is a long way to go. Chelsea’s 13-game win streak started a year ago yesterday, and was the fuel to their title run. At that point Man City looked unstoppable too. Nothing is over until it’s over. Chelsea still have a chance.
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