IN beating an unbeaten Tottenham 4-1 away on Monday evening, Chelsea revealed the very worst of themselves.
Few things better illustrate what a madcap game it was than to acknowledge that statement to be true.
In the first 15 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino’s collection of individuals were pulled all over the place. A VAR call away from going two down, they looked lost. Flummoxed.
Damningly, their befuddlement only worsened when they gained a man advantage, and then collapsed into outright naivety when it was 11 v 9.
Yes, Spurs’ defensive high-line was highly unusual but for twenty full minutes the visitors were unable to find a solution to a very simple problem, demonstrating why they have one of the worst chance conversion rates in the league on the rare occasions they weren’t caught offside.
In the 75th minute, the Blues accidentally strung six passes together and hey presto, Spurs’ scarce resources were stretched beyond breaking point but even after taking the lead, Chelsea’s haplessness was evident, their defence saying ‘hold my beer’.
Against nine men and a goal up, free-kicks were needlessly and – if we’re being blunt about it – stupidly conceded, with chances served up to Dier, Bentancur and Son.
For the most part this season Chelsea have looked clean out of ideas up front and have been susceptible to a sucker punch. Even in this extreme circumstance, with every advantage afforded them, that remained the case.
There were positives too, of course. A team doesn’t win comprehensively, no matter the extreme circumstances, without some pluses emerging.
It will be fascinating to see what kind of striker Nicolas Jackson will be in the weeks ahead after notching a hat-trick. Previously, the Senegalese forward appeared to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, scoring just twice from 4.7 xG.
And aged just 21, Cole Palmer was a man among boys, doing the right things and doing them patiently and well. He is exempt from all the criticism above.
Cole Palmer. What a signing. 💪🌟 pic.twitter.com/kkWH1tDVoY
— Talk Chelsea (@talkchelsea) November 7, 2023
Moreover, it fits a familiar footballing narrative that Palmer or Raheem Sterling come back and haunt Manchester City this weekend. To that end, the former has scored three in four, all of them penalties. Sterling meanwhile is getting his career back on track, even if the recovery has been stop/start.
Can this front three unduly trouble City’s back-line? Just four clean sheets in 17 across all comps for Pep Guardiola’s men is worth mentioning, a decrease of 20% from this stage last season, but the reigning champions still have statistically the best rearguard in the league.
At the other end, City’s brief malfunctioning going into the last international break has been corrected and then some. In their four games since, they have scored every 25.7 minutes, twice going into the break two-plus goals to the good.
Furthermore, City have a proven track record of turning up at Stamford Bridge and putting on a masterclass, winning on their last three visits. The caveat here is that often it’s been Kevin De Bruyne who have been instrumental, pulling the strings and enacting revenge on the club that didn’t believe in him, but in Bernardo Silva they have a ready-made replacement to be their orchestrator-in-chief.
The Portuguese schemer has been brilliant in recent weeks, popping up here, there and everywhere and in his best form for 18 months.
There is also Jeremy Doku to consider, fresh from assisting four times and scoring to boot last week at home to Bournemouth. A word to the wise though is the Belgian dribble-king may not start at the Bridge, with Guardiola tending to favour Jack Grealish’s ball-retention in the bigger games. That hardly helps Chelsea, with Grealish putting an underwhelming start to his campaign behind him and greatly impressing of late.
Then there’s Erling Haaland, who has committed to 2.3 shots on target per 90 this term and scored every 85 minutes in the league. The Striking Viking will have watched his team-mates blast six past the Cherries last week and considered every one of them his rightful kill.
Lastly, Julian Alvarez made three starts against Chelsea last season and converted each time.
Given that Chelsea have only won two of their last 16 home league fixtures, and factoring in a startling head-to-head record between these sides that have seen City win six on the bounce, accumulating an aggregate scoreline of 10-0, then unsurprisingly the visitors should be backed on Sunday.
When we throw in too, City’s imperious return to form and Chelsea’s residency in chaos, it could be a harsh lesson for a team that simply refuses to learn.