Performances like Sunday’s against Manchester City make you wonder if something is seriously wrong behind the scenes at Chelsea.
It wasn’t so much the 1-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium that leaves Chelsea five points adrift of fourth-place Tottenham, but it was the manner of the defeat.
Three shots, none on target were all Chelsea could muster, and after conceding a goal immediately after the second-half restart, it never felt like the Blues were ever getting back in the match.
Manager Antonio Conte’s team selection will likely come into question. The decision to start Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas was forced due to Tiemoue Bakayoko’s injury and N’Golo Kante ruled out just before the match with illness. The decision to start a front three of Eden Hazard, Pedro, and Willian was Conte’s doing.
It’s a combination that’s never really worked this season, and it didn’t work again on Sunday. Hazard was often isolated, rarely getting a touch of the ball, while Wilian and Pedro were tasked with tucking inside to keep Fabregas and Drinkwater from being overrun.
It didn’t matter. City dominated the ball, but to Chelsea’s credit, City managed just three shots on target and, at least in the first half, had trouble finding a way through Chelsea’s staunch midfield and defence.
The only problem for Chelsea was that they could never get out, opting to launch the ball long whenever City cut off their passing options, and the only real action from Chelsea in the first half was the sight of Hazard flailing his arms and shouting at his teammates every time the ball sailed over his head.
If City were going to breach the Chelsea defence in the first half, it was Leroy Sane who seemed the most likely to do so.
Leroy Sane has been in tremendous form and looked to be City’s most dangerous player in the first 45 minutes. It was Sane’s slaloming run that led to City’s first real sight of goal. As Sane glided past Chelsea challenges, the ball fell to Sergio Aguero. Aguero laid off a pass to Bernardo Silva, whose curling effort just grazed the cross bar.
Sane should have had the opener 26 minutes in when he found himself free at the back post from a City free kick. His control of the ball allowed him to fire a volley that Thibault Courtois must have believed was in the net, but Cesar Azpilicueta anticipated the volley well and was able to clear off the line.
The second half had barely started when City finally broke the deadlock. Andreas Christensen has had his confidence shaken in recent weeks, and his panicked clearance bounced off Azpiliceuta and fell to Sergio Aguero. Aguero found David Silva, and Silva’s drilled ball across the face of goal was shinned by Bernardo Silva to give City the lead they deserved.
Chelsea never really mounted much of a response to City going behind. The Blues stuck to their game plan of keeping it tight, despite going behind. With no sign of either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata entering the action, frustration began to mount amongst the Chelsea supporters.
When Conte finally did bring on both strikers, it was 10 minutes from full time and far too late to make an impact. But Morata nearly did when his overhead kick from a throw-in and a rushed clearance from a City defender broke to Marcos Alonso who sliced his volley wide.
It was a fitting image to end the match. Chelsea just didn’t look sharp and nothing they tried worked out. With a match against Crystal Palace coming next week, some tough questions will be asked between now and then.