In the away section behind one of the goals at The Etihad, silverware glinted now and again in the winter sunshine. The Chelsea fans, ranged across three tiers, resolutely held up replicas of the Champions League trophy many had brought with them from London and brandished them as a reminder of their victory over Manchester City in the final in Porto last May.

‘Where’s your European Cup?’ they sang, over and over again and they took their consolation there. Because history is all they have got at the moment. After this defeat to Pep Guardiola’s side, it is clearer than it ever was that the present belongs to City.

Their 1-0 victory took them 13 points clear of Chelsea and the rest of the increasingly forlorn chasing pack and within sight of retaining their title. This had felt like the last chance to halt City’s march towards winning the league and Chelsea could not lay a glove on them.

Kevin de Bruyne scored the winner 20 minutes from the end and it was a fine goal fit to grace a fine performance. City were the better side by a distance. If Jose Mourinho had still been in charge of Chelsea, he would have been accused of parking the bus with this performance but against a team as good as City, it is hard to find a bus big enough.

This was City’s 12th league victory in succession, a run that has defied the ravages of Covid and the pressures of the holiday period. City just march on and on and on. The forbidding reality for their rivals is that they seem to be getting better and better and better.

Their manager, Thomas Tuchel, might have masterminded three victories over City last season but in this encounter, the gap in quality between the two sides was impossible to disguise.

Instead of looking upwards, Chelsea may now have to start looking nervously over their shoulders as Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham and Manchester United try to rein them in.

They had one clear chance against City’s parsimonious defence but Romelu Lukaku could not take it. They progressed to the final of the Carabao Cup last week and it appears the knock-out competitions are, once more, their best chance of success this season.

City boss Pep Guardiola made a host of changes from the team that had beaten Swindon Town in the FA Cup third round and included Jack Grealish on the left of City’s fluid front three. Grealish has had an uneven time since his £100m arrival from Aston Villa in the summer and his recall in a match of this magnitude was a chance to make a belated statement.

Instead, most of City’s attacks went down the right where Raheem Sterling gave Marcos Alonso a torrid time, particularly after Alonso had been booked early on for fouling him. On the other flank, Grealish toiled in vain to make an impact, his halting efforts stymied by the formidable combination of Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta. Too often, he ran up blind alleys.

Chelsea found it hard to get a foothold in the game. They could not get the ball and on the rare occasions that they did, they could not keep it. Tuchel appeared to be particularly exasperated with the contribution of Lukaku whose interventions in the action were sporadic.

Lukaku has been rehabilitated by Tuchel after his controversial interview with Sky Italia but the relationship between manager and centre forward still appears uneasy. Time and again, Tuchel leapt from the dug-out to remonstrate with Lukaku, spreading his arms out wide, looking for an explanation why he had misplaced a pass or given away possession. Lukaku did his best to ignore him.


Courtesy: Daily Mail

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