Chelsea’s ‘crime against football’ as City break new PL mark
STATISTICS often don't tell the whole story but some figures from Manchester City's dominant 1-0 win over Chelsea further highlighted the gulf in class between the Premier League leaders and the rest - including the reigning champions.
Chelsea arrived at Etihad Stadium as the English champions - for a few more weeks, anyway - but ended up playing ultra-defensively, bowing to the utter supremacy of a team that has turned the title race into a procession.
City completed more passes (902) than any team has managed in a Premier League game.
City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan completed more passes (161) than any other single player in a Premier League game.
City had 78 percent possession in the first half, a scarcely believable stat against a top-six rival - especially one of the quality of Chelsea, which didn't even have a shot in that period.
Ultimately, the most important number for City was 18 - the record points lead it holds after 29 games thanks to Bernardo Silva's winner just 33 seconds into the second half.
Those stats drew astonishing criticism of Conte and his mentality from Sky Sports' Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville, prompting a war of words with the Italian.
On The Gary Neville Podcast, the high profile pundit fumed: "I think Chelsea have given us an unacceptable 90 minutes there. It was awful.
"Yes, you want to come to Manchester City and make sure you're compact to stop Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. You want to make you leave the ball to the centre backs and the full backs - and they did all that.
"In terms of the approach, it wasn't bad - it was the lack of intent and passing of the performance which was so passive that made it difficult to watch.
"I'm not sure how the game just drifted, drifted, drifted for 90 minutes with no reaction from the sidelines.
"Even the Manchester City fans inside the stadium wouldn't have liked that match. They'll be going home thinking Chelsea were terrible - it was a stroll."
Redknapp was even harsher: "That was anti-football, it was a crime against football what they did today.
"I really feel really strongly about it. I was looking forward to watching this game today. I understand not playing with a striker and being difficult to beat, but you must have some intent. They've got good players - it was like they didn't want to go forward at all.
"Manchester City didn't even have to be that good, Chelsea didn't really want to play. The manager must have put it in their minds to sit back. They are better than that. Although Pep Guardiola was celebrating - he must have thought that was a waste of time.
"Chelsea should have given them the three points before the game started."
Conte replied: "I'm not so stupid to play open against Manchester City and lose 3-0 or 4-0.
"If I remember well, three days ago, Arsenal played twice against City and then you criticised Arsene Wenger because they conceded three goals in only 30 minutes.
"The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics, because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way."
With its 14th straight league win at home, City moved to within 12 points of clinching the title. City needs 18 more points from its last nine games to pass Chelsea's record points haul of 95, from the 2004-05 season, and the magic 100-point mark is coming into view.
City's hunger and desire are that strong.
"They are showing a fantastic quality, but at the same time a fantastic mentality," Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said.
"When you match quality and mentality, I think you become unstoppable."
"At this moment, you have to accept every criticism," Conte added.
"But I'm not so stupid to play open and lose 3-0 or 4-0."
When a team like Chelsea has this attitude, the rest of the Premier League has no hope.
Asked if he thought this dominance of the league was possible before the season started, City manager Pep Guardiola said: "No way. No way. Who could believe it? I think if you ask the players, the players neither.
"In terms of not just the results but the way we played, today was another demonstration . To have the distance, 25 to Chelsea, 33 to Arsenal, (20) to Tottenham is a lot."
Chelsea, missing key midfielder N'Golo Kante, just about survived the first half, only to concede immediately after the restart when David Silva crossed for Bernardo Silva to force in a finish at the far post.
It was the Portugal winger's second goal in as many games and he is impressing now he has nailed a place in the starting team following injuries to Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in recent months.
Chelsea's only real opportunity of an equalizer came midway through the second half when Victor Moses was played in down the right with City's defense momentarily torn open. Moses blazed his shot way wide.
Conte fielded a front three of Pedro Rodriguez and Willian behind lone striker Eden Hazard, but the trio barely saw the ball. Hazard, in particular, looked a frustrated figure while playing mostly with his back to goal and surviving on scraps of possession.
Chelsea stayed in fifth place but is now five points adrift of the fourth and final Champions League qualification position - currently occupied by Tottenham. It was a second straight loss in Manchester for Chelsea, having been defeated 2-1 by Man United last weekend.
The possibility remains open that City could win the league title at home to United on April 7. Guardiola's side is showing no mercy on its way to a second trophy of the season, after the League Cup last weekend.
"In all the aspects, we were better," Guardiola said. "We make an amazing high pressing. Our build-up was good. We didn't concede one shot on target. We create enough chances to win.
"We made an amazing performance because Chelsea is still the champions."
Not for much longer.