As much as everyone suspected the defeat at St James Park was a temporary blip, a one-off, a lapse in focus; no one truthfully saw what happened next coming. As good as Manchester City were in making light work of Arsenal last week, the shredding to pieces of Chelsea last Sunday was simply extraordinary. To all intents and purposes the game was over after twenty-five minutes when Ilkay Gundogan made it 4-0.
It has been quite a recovery week for Pep Guardiola’s men who have gained nine points, scored eleven goals and placed themselves above Liverpool, albeit on goal difference and having played a game more, at the top of the table. Rumours of the reigning champions losing their lustre seem to have been premature.
But what of the vanquished? For Chelsea this was their third defeat in three away league games since the turn of the year. Defeat at Arsenal was meek, at Bournemouth embarrassing, but their humbling at the Etihad is not the sort of failing that Roman Abramovich is usually minded to accept. It seems almost ridiculous to suggest that the quirky maverick Maurizio Sarri’s job is under threat; but previous incumbents have been let go from the Chelsea hot seat for much less.
It seems likely, if not completely inevitable, that Sarri will lose his job if Chelsea finish outside of the top four for another season. Sunday’s defeat and more specifically the impact of the six goals on their goal difference dropped them down to sixth place on goals scored behind Arsenal.
The previous day, Liverpool had lain down their own title marker seeing off Bournemouth 3-0 and looking much more like the team that thrilled us at the start of the campaign, with some of the new signings starting to show why they were recruited in the first place. In attack they seemed better for moving Sala out to the wider position that not only seems to suit him better but also plays to Firmino’s strengths.
With the Premier League being put on hold for cup engagements this weekend, it means Liverpool have the weekend off while City travel to Newport County in the FA Cup. Looming just over the horizon is Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford which seems to be being given much more importance and prominence than it was prior to the Solskjaer revolution. The perceived wisdom now seeming to be that that game is going to be a major hurdle to be overcome in the quest to bring the title back to Anfield for the first time in 29 years. Yet what seems to be being ignored is that fact that City have to visit Old Trafford themselves in a month’s time.
For all the goodwill and momentum that Solskjaer has generated around Manchester United, it all came down to earth with something of a thud on Tuesday night when PSG notched two second half away goals and took firm control of the tie. Because of the lack of competition in Ligue 1, with PSG being ten points ahead of nearest challengers Lyon despite having played two games less, there is a tendency amongst British pundits to not regard them as part of the European elite.
However, what PSG showed in the second half against United suggested that they should be taken seriously, and are worthy of consideration amongst the contenders for Europe’s biggest prize. Once they realised they were the superior team, the French champions simply outpassed, outpressed and at times almost overran United. They probably could and should have won even more emphatically, even deprived of two members of the renowned attacking trident in Edison Cavani and Neymar.
PSG are virtually unbeatable at home, having lost just once at the Parc de Princes all season in the League Cup to Guincamp. Without Paul Pogba, shown a second yellow card for a petulant foul on Dani Alves, United face a seemingly insurmountable task in the second leg.
On Wednesday evening after a fairly evenly matched first half, Tottenham made light work of a Borussia Dortmund side who even though beset by injuries, still lead the Bundesliga by five points. Most impressive was the clinical way in which Spurs took their chances and effectively sealed the tie even without their two best players, Harry Kane and Dele Alli. While it still seems unlikely that the Champions League will provide the long-sought trophy that for most pundits would crown Pochettino’s five years of work, they most certainly laid down a marker that suggested they should be taken seriously by the remaining contenders.
Away in Belarus Arsenal served up what Martin Keown described as: “As poor as I can remember, certainly under Emery it is the worst performance we will have seen”, certainly the Gunners were sloppy in possession, lacked penetration and once again gave away a goal by failing in even the most basic marketing from a set-piece. If the competition that Head Coach Unai Emery has won three times previously is to provide an alternative route to a return to the Champions League, his charges are going to have to perform a lot better than the woeful fare that they served up last night. If there is any consolation for us Gooners it is that at least the second leg on Thursday will be an interesting game.
Chelsea just about eased the pressure on the underfire boss Maurizio Sarri thanks to Olivier Giroud’s backheel and away wins for Napoli, Benfica, Inter and Sevilla confirmed the likely favourites for the competition.