Kevin de Bruyne shows what former employers are missing as Manchester City crush Chelsea
The Premier League trophy was on display before the start of Chelsea and Manchester City’s clash at Stamford Bridge, a game taking place at a stage of the season when at least one of these clubs is usually competing to add it to their respective trophy cabinets.
The title, officially, still belongs to Chelsea, whose defence of their crown has been so dismal that they have spent virtually the whole campaign closer to the bottom three than the summit of the standings.
City have not been quite as bad, but they too should really have begun this match with top spot rather than a top-four finish in their sights.
For the neutrals, though, the lack of silverware on the line was probably a positive; it is difficult to envisage this being such an enjoyably open and end-to-end encounter had Chelsea and City still been in contention for the principal prize with less than a month of the season remaining.
It took just over two minutes for the first big chance of the game to arrive, Sergio Aguero’s close-range effort diverted behind after Kevin De Bruyne had squared the ball to him from the right.
The Belgium international, taking on his former club, was the danger man throughout, his speed and intelligent movement aiding City’s transitions from defence to attack. His weight of pass was superb and his touch terrific, while his lateral movement out to the flanks made it difficult for Chelsea’s midfielders to get a handle on him.
The hosts did cause the visitors problems in the opening stages too, Pedro’s low drive cleared off the line by Nicolas Otamendi and Diego Costa’s strike chalked off for offside.
City were far more incisive with their forays forward, though, Aguero’s opener coming after a spell of dominance for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
De Bruyne and Samir Nasri both spurned one-on-one opportunities before the former set up Aguero, who fired home from outside the box with the help of a slight Gary Cahill deflection. There were just 18 seconds between Chelsea taking a corner and the ball nestling in the back of their net at the other end, with De Bruyne getting in behind left-back Baba Rahman – not for the first or last time – to great effect.
City are a team who tend to dominate possession but they were excellent on the break here, almost invariably picking the right pass at the right time to slice open Chelsea on multiple occasions.
Another blistering counter-attack led to Aguero’s second of the day shortly after the interval, Nasri slipping in the clinical Argentine after De Bruyne had wriggled free of Cesc Fabregas inside his own half.
Aguero later sealed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after Thibaut Courtois was sent off for bringing down Fernandinho, taking his Premier League tally for the season to 21 in the process.
Although it was always going to be difficult for Chelsea to take anything from the game after falling two goals behind, it was still surprising how flat they were for the remainder of the encounter.
Guus Hiddink’s charges’ mustered only two attempts on goal in the final 40 minutes, their supporters growing increasingly frustrated as they watched their side struggle to penetrate a City defence that, while much-maligned, has now kept consecutive clean sheets against the champions of France and the champions of England.
Chelsea will be forced to relinquish that tag to either Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur in the coming weeks, with a lowest league finish in two decades staring them in the face.
Their 11th defeat of the season will have been even harder to take because of De Bruyne’s key role in it, the 24-year-old again underlining his importance to City against the club who sold him to Wolfsburg for £18 million in January 2014.
Signed by City for roughly triple that amount last summer, De Bruyne has proven himself to be excellent value for money ever since.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport
Published: April 16, 2016 04:00 AM