Manchester City wrap up surprisingly easy win over Chelsea
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Man City's surprisingly comfortable 1-0 win over Chelsea.
1. Man City beat Chelsea, stay on course for the century
Manchester City remained on course to become the first club to amass 100 points in a Premier League season by cruising to a comfortable 1-0 victory against a negative Chelsea at the Etihad.
Chelsea, whose 95-point haul in 2004-05 remains the best-ever achieved in the Premier League, struggled to create a scoring chance with Eden Hazard deployed as a solitary forward by Antonio Conte. But despite only winning by a one-goal margin, courtesy of Bernardo Silva's goal 35 seconds into the second-half, City never looked like claiming anything other than three points against the reigning champions. And with nine games still to play, City now stand just 21 points (or seven wins) away from breaking the 100-point barrier this season.
Having lost just one game in the league this season, the only potentially difficult games remaining for Pep Guardiola's team are the home game against Manchester United and a trip to Wembley to face Tottenham. With the title as good as won, it is only a matter of time before City's third championship in six years is confirmed. Once that is achieved, the next target will be to break Chelsea's record and then go on to hit the 100 mark.
In this form, it would be difficult to argue against City winning all nine of their remaining games and even ending the campaign with 106 points.
2. Sane as important to Man City as De Bruyne
When Leroy Sane spoke to ESPN FC in Los Angeles during Manchester City's preseason tour of the United States last summer, he made the bold claim that the club could challenge Real Madrid for the Champions League title because of the attacking talent being assembled by Pep Guardiola.
It appeared a brave statement at the time but less than nine months later, Sane's prediction is being borne out and the 22-year-old is perhaps the key man in City's devastating forward line.
The Germany winger was exceptional again against Chelsea, just days after tearing Arsenal apart in the 3-0 Premier League win at the Emirates. He has incredible pace, balletic balance and trickery and possesses the qualities of a young Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale. The son of a former footballer and athlete, Sane is clearly blessed with the sporting genes of his parents and he has taken his game to another level this season, scoring 12 times already for Guardiola's team.
When it comes to dishing out the individual awards at the end of the season, most observers expect City teammate Kevin De Bruyne to perform a clean sweep. Though De Bruyne is the heart and lungs of this team, Sane gives them the X-factor and he would be as deserving as his teammate of any award that comes his way.
3. Hazard will only be frustrated in 'false nine' role
Eden Hazard has been Chelsea's match-winner virtually ever since he arrived from Lille in 2012, but he will not turn many games in his team's favour if he continues to be deployed as a central striker.
As against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie last month, the Belgium international was asked by Antonio Conte to play as Chelsea's most advanced forward. Hazard did little of note in that game and was arguably even less of a threat against Manchester City, with defenders Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi barely troubled by the 5-foot-8 winger.
Conte's reasons for playing Hazard through the middle are understandable, especially when faced with such dangerous opposition as City. With Hazard at the top of the formation, Conte is able to take a more defensive approach but as a result, his team loses the unpredictability and quality that the number offers when he is free to roam across the final third.
Alvaro Morata's loss of form and confidence means that Conte is reluctant to play the former Real Madrid striker in this formation, while Olivier Giroud's lack of mobility rules him out as a realistic option. But Hazard, who did not even merit a handshake from Conte when replaced by Morata after 89 minutes, is being wasted in this role. With his future at Chelsea still uncertain, the longer it goes on, the more frustrated he is likely to become.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_