Manchester City have taken a huge step towards yet another title
For Manchester City, that was another giant step to the Premier League title.
And for Kevin de Bruyne the win over Chelsea allowed him to take a giant step too – into the conversation about who is the best footballer around just now.
I’m just glad I was long gone from defences before this lad arrived in English football.
He’s an absolute class act, horrific for a defender to mark, because he can score goals and make them for others too.
Most of the really elite players just do one of those things – de Bruyne does both!
When I was growing up, the late, great Colin Bell was renowned as the best Manchester City player ever.
Over the last decade, David Silva inserted himself into that category with some brilliant displays in Sky Blue.
But where does the Belgian de Bruyne stand in the league of City legends now?
Quite simply de Bruyne has stepped up in such a fashion since Silva left 18 months ago, and that City have hardly missed their Spanish wizard.
You need your best players to influence the big matches, the ones against your rivals for the titles.
Remember that Kevin had to leave last year’s Champions League final early after a clash with Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger. How might that game have turned out with City’s main man playing for the full 90 minutes?
But de Bruyne was the man of the moment here, scoring the vital goal and prompting Manchester City all afternoon.
I’m sure he has his eyes on one last shot on a big win for Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ of top men for Belgium at this year’s World Cup Finals.
Eden Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Romelu Lukaku will be with him. It is an attacking line-up to frighten any nation with the dream of doing well at the World Cup.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is solid in his position too.
Maybe their defence is not quite up to it, with a few ageing players back there.
But for all these class acts in Belgian red, Qatar is surely a last chance to win the trophy they deserve.
After all, at the World Cup of 2018 and the Euros last summer, it was only the winners of both competitions, France and Italy, who beat them.
Before then, de Bruyne has a few more things to do with City, principally securing that elusive Champions League medal.
For all their dominance in England, neither de Bruyne nor his manager Pep Guardiola have managed to win that competition with City. It is surely a massive target now, for the next four months, given that the Premier League is all but done and dusted.
What’s scary too is that Pep piloted his team to victory yesterday over Chelsea without playing either Ruben Dias or Gabriel Jesus – and with a probable starter in Riyad Mahrez away at the African Nations Cup.
It’s a belter of a squad that they have, no one else has that fine balance of hard-working pros and top players, who will work hard too.
City remind me of Manchester United in their Fergie pomp.
They have quality all through their team, but it is quality that does not mind getting down and dirty when the occasion demands.
Did you notice how Manchester City players were sprinting to track back all the time, making runs into space, offering themselves to a colleague for a pass?
It’s the hard work that has to be done if matches are to be won – and the contrast with Manchester United right now, with the Red Devils’ players almost loping through games, is pointed indeed.
As for Chelsea, well surely, this defeat is the end of their ambition to win the 2021/22 Premier League.
Thirteen points off the top, with the same number of games played as the champions, is just too far back against this relentless Manchester City outfit, who have won their last 12 Premier League matches.
Where are they going to find the 13 points from? No, it’s over for Chelsea.
So they can concentrate on the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Cup final at the end of February.
It’s three top competitions to go for, and so Chelsea’s season is still very much alive.
But manager Thomas Tuchel will also be keeping his eye on the Premier League table.
There West Ham, Arsenal and Manchester United will all be sniffing around Chelsea’s place in the top four, and with it that guaranteed Champions League slot for next season, if they start to take their eye off the Premier League ball and drop points. I appreciate what Chelsea were trying to do yesterday.
Tuchel wanted to keep the game tight until about the 75th minute and then he would take the brake off, get a couple of attacking subs on, and go for the win needed.
He got to within five minutes of where he wanted to be, but Chelsea could not go all the way because of de Bruyne’s brilliance and because of Chelsea’s work-rate.
They were pushed back and off the ball all too easily all through the match and their defenders were compromised by picking up a couple of early yellow cards.
Marcos Alonso could hardly look sideways at Raheem Sterling after picking up an early card for a foul on the England man.
Alonso had to be so careful from then on. So it was for Chelsea.
A grim day in January spells the end of their Premier League dream.
Their players said before this match that it was like a Cup final.
Well if it was, Chelsea are now in a fight just to get the runners-up medals.
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