It’s not a chasm, it’s a GULF! Manchester City proves they’re on another planet than Chelsea

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The combined cost of the two starting rosters was just under a billion pounds, so on paper this was not just a title showdown, but a billion-pound match: the ultimate manifestation of purchasing power of the Premier League.

On grass it was something completely different. One of the most lavishly assembled non-events imaginable, in which chelsea, need to throw the sink to Manchester City at a time when the title was in jeopardy, were not equipped with either a game plan or even the right personnel.

Chelsea’s best player, mason mount, was on the bench until the 81st minute. Chelsea’s most expensive player Romelu Lukaku, was redundant as no one would risk a 20-yard pass in his general direction.

Manchester City almost saw Chelsea as a title threat with their 1-0 win on Saturday

The Blues aren’t the same team that lifted the Champions League and couldn’t fight

The sight of Thomas Tuchel leaping from his seat and fuming delighted TV commentators, as if making noise when no one was listening added any value.

Arsenal’s performance against City on New Year’s Day had demonstrated that quick ‘attacking transitions’, as Tuchel likes to call them, are the only way to deal with City’s stifling process. There were almost none from Chelsea.

There are extenuating circumstances. A global pandemic. An Africa Cup of Nations. Injuries that left them with a 37-year-old in the center of a five-man defensive line. A need for time to bring consistency to a workforce built by four former managers in as many years.

But for a starting XI that cost nearly £400m, it was a sickly shade of beige. As Tuchel approaches the first anniversary of his appointment at Stamford Bridge, his side remains a stain in City’s rear-view mirror. “They are the European champions. How amazing they are,’ Guardiola said of Chelsea, somehow keeping a straight face.

Blues boss Thomas Tuchel faces a tough task to rule City, let alone this season

It will take skill, mischief and quite a bit of competitive anger to bring City back anytime over the next few years and restore a competitive edge to the Premier League. A century of points, or thereabouts, is regulation for them now.

They’re on track for 96 points, to go with the 100 they got in 2017-18 and 98 the following season. Breaking 90 points has always been a monumental achievement for Manchester United, whose best in their imperious 1990s era was 92 (and even that came in a 42-game season).

These are the rewards of laying a deep foundation under a club. Hearing Guardiola describe how he naturally knew Kevin De Bruyne after spending six seasons with him was a reminder of that. City have refined their player acquisition system since the days when Carlo Ancelotti managed Chelsea.

The squad is so complete that paying £100m for Jack Grealish is a minor affliction. None of this is rocket science, although common sense will suffice when so many of your challengers lack this commodity.

Manchester United have spent billions since Sir Alex Ferguson left, but without the furthest level of skill. The decline of this club is nothing short of a scandal. Arsenal are even further away from the title scene they once coveted as a world-class club. The leaders of Tottenham self-destructed without thinking.

Chelsea fans revel in their status as Champions of Europe but they are far behind the Citizens

Only Liverpool hold a candle for the designated champions, despite not being backed by the wealth of a Gulf state. City didn’t even feel the need to make much of the fact that they topped Manchester United’s annual trading revenue for the first time last week.

Roman Abramovich’s loans to Chelsea have just topped £1.5billion, despite having gone through four managers since Guardiola’s appointment and only one of them having gone through two seasons.

None of this dulled Tuchel’s air of deep resignation on Saturday when asked about the need for three points: the do-or-die aspect of a first versus second clash. “Let’s be real about us,” he replied.

His use of Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech on either side of Lukaku was disconcerting, given Mount was the shining light when Chelsea lost to West Ham last month. Mount had been on the pitch for five minutes when he brought the kind of cavalier spirit down the Chelsea right that had been absent all afternoon.

He located Timo Werner, watched him lose the ball, picked it up again and drove through. Too late. There was only a minute left.

Despite his form, Mason Mount only came late as Tuchel opted for others

Fleetingly, as Lukaku danced through a shaky challenge from John Stones in the opening minutes of the match, there was a thrilling hint that he could wreak the kind of devastation on Stones that he had on another England centre-half, Tyrone Mings, in Villa Park on Boxing Day. . But the striker drifted into insignificance.

For 45 minutes at Villa he had been the chief orchestrator, demanding possession and dictating where the ball should go. Here, there was only resignation and hesitation. Tuchel’s delicate dance around his performance – “I didn’t say that”, he retorted when told he had “criticized the strikers” – suggested the deep awkwardness of this relationship particular.

Chelsea’s semi-detachedness was evident all over the pitch. Thiago Silva and Mateo Kovacic fell back after De Bruyne passed N’Golo Kante on the way to his goal.

Callum Hudson-Odoi sends a bad free kick and an over-hit cross in the space of 90 seconds. And in the end, the same maddening fatalism of Tuchel. “It can happen if you play at City.”

Guardiola’s biggest challenge is to avoid giving the impression that he knows the title is won. “We can lose games – one and two and three and four and five,” he insisted, protesting a little too much at City’s vulnerability.

Pep Guardiola’s team of superstars are on course for the title, even if he doesn’t like to admit it

Although Liverpool’s win at Brentford cut the gap at the top to 11 points with one game less, no Premier League side have managed to claim the title from the 13-point lead City had taken on Saturday night.

They have already played Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and United away from home, leaving four months of football in which the only game to remotely quicken the pulse is Liverpool’s visit to the Etihad in April – mid-game home and away from the Champions League quarter-finals. This competition remains City’s only unachieved great holy grail.

Guardiola wanted to conjure up the mental image of City losing a game in the next four months and how they would react in that situation. “I know we will react well. We will try again. We will try again,” he insisted.

Managers don’t disparage their team when challengers are at their throats, fighting them, looking to drag them down to earth. Very few in this competition seem so inclined.

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