Kevin De Bruyne inspired Manchester City to a first-half rout as they crushed Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Two goals in three minutes swung an absorbing early contest decisively in the visitors’ favor. The excellent Ilkay Gundogan struck first and then Phil Foden put the finishing touches on excellent build-up as Pep Guardiola’s side rediscovered some of the swagger of their best moments of recent years.
A careless error by N’Golo Kante just before the interval released Raheem Sterling on the counter and although the England international’s shot hammered back off the woodwork De Bruyne was on hand to get the goal his performance as an auxiliary center-forward thoroughly deserved. Uganda
Three goals down at the break, Chelsea never looked like bringing life back to the tie but they did deny US international Zack Steffen a clean sheet on his Premier League debut when substitutes Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi combined for the latter to score on the counter. Read on for the key talking points from the game.Pressure mounting on Lampard
We’re about to find out how much being a club legend inures you from the whims of Roman Abramovich because make no mistake this is the sort of period when a Chelsea manager feels the owner’s eyeballs boring into them. Certainly Frank Lampard’s comments of late seem to suggest that he feels he has the backing of those above him.
Why else would he so publicly place the blame for the 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on his players, urging them to “take responsibility” for a slump in form that sees them seven points off the top of the table having played a game more. Lampard’s assertion earlier in the winter that his side are not title contenders certainly seems to be coming true.
To suggest this is on his squad does not reflect the tactical failings that this third-year manager is responsible for. Putting an out-of-form Timo Werner through the middle made sense as a method to exploit the gaps Manchester City leave with their high line.
However Chelsea did not look to push the ball up the pitch quickly, they seemed happy to slowly work their way around the press and allow their visitors to get back into position. Nor did they give Werner anyone to work with, be that a No. 10 who could get close to him and play the killer pass or a target man like Olivier Giroud whose knockdowns he could feast on.
Instead you had the curious sight early in the first half of Chelsea passing at an agonizing pace around their own half, forcing Werner to drop deep to give his teammates enough numbers to advance the ball up the pitch to… the space Werner should have been in.
Meanwhile there were so many basic errors that must come down to a management’s planning. Having the undersized Christian Pulisic, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount marking the backpost from a wide free-kick is not a failure of attitude by the players but of management’s organization. With four defeats and one win in six Premier League games, questions are coming for Lampard eventually.Necessity brings invention from Guardiola
With five players out including regular starters Ederson, Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus (the latter’s absence particularly keenly felt with Sergio Aguero not deemed fit enough to start), it was inevitable that Guardiola would have to try something different, albeit with a team that was still of such a high standard that it could carry out even the most complex instructions.
And so Guardiola deployed something approximating a 4-4-2 with Foden and Bernardo Silva drifting off their flanks, De Bruyne functioning as something between false 9 and playmaking target man, and Raheem Sterling causing chaos by doubling up on the flanks and, without wishing to oversimplify, running around a lot.
When City clicked they did so in spectacular fashion. The movement of the nominal front two dragged defenders out of position, opening up angles for the wingers or the late-arriving Gundogan to attack Edouard Mendy’s goal.
The second typified the efficacy of Guardiola’s tactics. De Bruyne’s dart into midfield took Kurt Zouma with him, compelling Thiago Silva to slide in when the Belgian slipped through Foden.
All that slide tackle did was hand possession back to De Bruyne who now drew Cesar Azpilicueta out to block the cross. The Spaniard didn’t really have a choice but in opting to cut the supply line he left Foden unmarked to slot in at Mendy’s near post.
This felt like the City of old, constantly drifting into odd positions, their angle of attack oft-mutating to ensure that the opposing defense could never settle. What began as a 4-4-2 eventually transitioned to a 4-3-3 with Silva playing a more central role and Sterling wide on the right. It was a pleasure to behold.USMNT watch
As starts to a Premier League career go, forgetting the basic rules is not an ideal way to announce yourself to an English audience and Zack Steffen certainly would be well-advised to avoid social media over the coming days after he picked up Rodri’s nervy backpass early on at Stamford Bridge. With any goal scored from an indirect free-kick automatically guaranteed cult status in the English game it was lucky for the 25-year-old that Ben Chilwell could not make him pay.
Indeed Steffen might have been the only City player to have had a scintilla of disappointment at how the game played out after that early blunder with the excellent Ruben Dias and John Stones leaving him with little to do before Hudson-Odoi’s finish at the near post robbed him of a clean sheet.
As for Pulisic, his problem was that for the most decisive period of the game he didn’t touch the ball. After drawing a tackle from Rodri with a dangerous dart down the left in the 13th minute he went nine minutes and 41 seconds without receiving possession. Was there more he and his forwards could have done? Perhaps, it was notable that the buzzy interplay of City was not replicated by the Chelsea frontline.
Equally the clumsy approach to building play by Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic meant that no matter how well the front three moved they could not guarantee good passes coming their way.
When Pulisic did get the ball again he looked lively, darting behind the defense and twisting dangerously whenever he got one-on-one with Joao Cancelo whenever the ball came his way. Indeed by the interval he had completed six of Chelsea’s 10 successful one-against-ones in attack.
The problem was not what the young American was doing at one end but what his teammates were offering at the other end.Notable performances
Kevin De Bruyne: Playing as a point forward, De Bruyne was a joy to behold. His positioning was exceptional, his passing sumptuous and the finish for City’s third displayed the composure that is so typical of him. RATING: 9
Hakim Ziyech: After a month on the sidelines it was perhaps too much to place the creative burden on the Moroccan, who struggled to impact the game in any significant fashion before being withdrawn after just over an hour. RATING: 4Premier League outlook
Suddenly City find themselves firmly in the conversation at the top of the table, four points off Liverpool and Manchester United having played a game fewer than both. As Guardiola’s side have risen up the Premier League so have Chelsea fallen, the defeat meaning they have dropped below Aston Villa and into eighth.