As entertaining as Sunday’s game was, it has now opened up a gap between Manchester City and Chelsea and Liverpool that the two chasing teams will not be able to claw back. Both sides showed great quality, especially in the attacking third, and Chelsea mounted a great comeback to go in at half time level having been two-nil down. However, there were mistakes from both sides in defence that led to goals being scored. And while all four goals scored were of extremely high quality, those defensive mistakes may just show the difference between Manchester City and the chasing pack. City did not play particularly well in their game against Arsenal at the weekend but were still able to grind out a win. Arsenal did show that their recent upturn in form in no fluke, even after going a man down after Gabriel was sent off, whereas they had been soundly beaten in previous meetings. If not for a rash challenge in the box from Granit Xhaka, Manchester City might have struggled to win that game. But that was City’s first struggle for a good while. And although they struggled, they got the win they needed to keep their momentum up. All great championship winning sides have that same quality. Even when they don’t have their best game, they can get the result they need. Chelsea and Liverpool’s title winning sides had that asset in the past, but at the moment neither quite have that in their corner. Chelsea have recently stumbled in the Premier League, and Liverpool also suffered defeat at Leicester over the Christmas period.
City have shown just how relentless they are under Pep Guardiola. One title is not enough. The ambition to win must be rolling on season after season, and if any player seems to lack that same ambition from one season to the next then he will quite happily sell you on and bring in another player who has the necessary ambition to thrive in that environment. And while the vast majority of the Liverpool squad were involved in their title win of 2020, there are only three Premier League winners left in the Chelsea squad, although they do have the experience of winning the Champions League last season to draw on. However, for Chelsea it has been a long time since they were able to put together a run across an entire season to claim the biggest domestic trophy on offer. And I think this time around, they have slipped up at the exact wrong moment to try and seriously challenge for the title this season. And the same does go for Liverpool. Right at the moment where City are hitting form and putting a run of ten or more games without losing or even really dropping points, Chelsea have suffered losses against West Ham earlier in the month and draws against Brighton, Everton and Wolves. Liverpool have had two draws and a loss in their last three games. Manchester City in that time have won all their games in that same period. Even if Chelsea and Liverpool rediscover their form, and City have a dip in their form, it is a very big gap to overcome.
Chelsea were also dealing with the fallout from Romelu Lukaku’s interview with Sky Italia, which saw him dropped from the matchday squad entirely. That all looks to have resolved itself in a manner that Tuchel seems satisfied with. The logic behind Lukaku’s decision to do that interview is slightly baffling. If he wanted to explain his decision to leave to the Inter fans he should have done that at the time and not four or five months into the first campaign at his new club. Lukaku can still make a huge difference for the club this season and beyond. If he wants to prove his commitment to the club then do the thing the club brought you into to do. And to any fans who might be reading this, please don’t boo him. I was at a home game a few years ago when Jorginho was being brought on as a substitute, and the Chelsea fans started booing as he came on the pitch. It was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve personally seen or heard at a football match. The guy will be wearing the club’s badge. Back the team and the manager. Thomas Tuchel has been at the heart of the decision making here, and he has decided to accept the apology that has given by Lukaku then we should have faith in his ability to control the situation. It’s also important to remember that Eden Hazard made repeated public statements about his desire to play for Real Madrid. The fans never turned on him. And that was because of his contribution. If Lukaku can do something similar, there is a definite way back from this for him.