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After months of giddy performances, Manchester City finally woke up from their football coma against Chelsea, and the rest of the Premier League should be scared. Very scared.
The football City played in the first half of their 3-1 win over the Blues was as devastating as anything seen in the Premier League this season. They dominated their opponents in almost every metric and each of their goals was excellent.
After a shaky first ten minutes, the floodgates opened. First, Joao Cancelo’s pass gave Kevin De Bruyne a clear view of the goal, but the Belgian took it out in an unusual way. Chelsea couldn’t keep their opponents out for much longer.
With 18 minutes left, Ilkay Gundogan let Oleksandr Zinchenko’s pass roll down his body, leaving Thiago Silva for dead, before firing a shot to the bottom corner. Less than 180 seconds later, City doubled its lead.
This time, De Bruyne made up for his initial mistake by placing one on a plate for Phil Foden. After Kurt Zouma shut down his first effort, he caught the ball again and made a punctual pass through the legs of César Azpilicueta, finding Foden unmarked in the area who made no mistake.
With little more than half an hour played, City put the game out of doubt. After John Stones easily stopped Hakim Ziyech’s free kick, the visitors turned defense into attack. Within seconds, De Bruyne’s clever header sent Raheem Sterling away from Chelsea’s last man, N’Golo Kante. It took Sterling forever to pull the trigger and when he finally did, the ball shot off the bar. Fortunately, De Bruyne was there to apply the finish.
The immediate reaction to this quick shot, triple saves on social media focused on Chelsea sifting as defending. However, while Edouard Mendy should have done better for the first two goals and Thiago Silva, Kante and a handful of others could also be asked questions, overemphasizing this is doing City no favors.
All three goals showed a vigor that has been lacking in his attacks for most of the season. At times, the city has been infuriating to watch. Heavy on the ball and lacking rhythm, it has sometimes seemed like they want possession for the sake of possession.
In losses to Leicester and Tottenham, as well as in draws against West Ham and West Brom, they recorded close to or more than 70% possession. However, on all these occasions they were unable to make their domain pay. The first part against Chelsea was a different story. Although the Blues enjoyed 54% of the ball, City were the better team, moving it with speed and purpose to finish things in just over 30 minutes.
Against Chelsea, they also demonstrated a clinical advantage that has been largely absent of late. Prior to their visit to Stamford Bridge, only Sheffield United had underperformed their xG worse than City. Overall, their expected goals suggested they should have scored five more times so far this season. If they had, the xG model predicted that they would have three more points.
While the first half saw Guardiola’s team break the mold, after the break things followed a more familiar script with City defending brilliantly. No Premier League team has conceded fewer goals than they have this season, and if it weren’t for a bizarre 5-2 loss to Leicester in September, their defensive record would be even more impressive.
Against Chelsea, they continued this trend. Stones and Ruben Dias devoured the ball like hungry hippos in the heart of City’s defense, while Zinchenko and Cancelo deprived their opponents of opportunities.
Rodri’s performance, meanwhile, may not have been perfect, but the Spaniard broke his fair share of Chelsea’s attacks to make up for his early weakness in possession. If it weren’t for a 91-minute lag of focus, which allowed Callum Hudson-Odoi to score a consolation, City would have toasted their eighth clean sheet of the season.
So what does this all mean? Well, if City are ready to combine their excellent defense with a revitalized attacking phase as their display against Chelsea suggests, their rivals should look over their shoulders with anxiety. Especially because of the easy streak of games that Guardiola’s team has in January.
It’s not hard to imagine City getting the most points from their matches against Brighton, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, West Brom and Sheffield United over the next month and these 15 points would go a long way to help bring them back to the top of the Premier League. table.