The warning signs were there before kick-off. The presence of N’Golo Kante for Chelsea in a game like this is non-negotiable.
Although he travelled with the squad a�� and was seen coming through the bowels of the Etihad Stadium with the rest of his team-mates afterwards a�� the France midfielder was unavailable to face Manchester City on SundayA�through illness.
With him in the side Chelsea can play both ways. Antonio Conte can ask his side to get on the ball and he can rely on the simple but tempo-setting passes of Kante in midfield.
If they decide to surrender the ball and play on the counter, well, Kante can be the ideal man for that too.
Conte prepared a game plan for Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 and assumed that he could deploy a similar set up against Pep Guardiolaa��s side.
That would make sense if Kante was available. He wasna��t.
Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas are an inadequate pair for a side of Chelseaa��s profile in a game of this circumstance. The ex-Leicester captain appears to be a forgotten Chelsea Sporcle quiz answer-in-waiting such has been his lack of impact at Stamford Bridge.
His signing, and that of Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud in January, as well as Antonio Rudiger, Alvaro Morata and Davide Zappacosta in summer, hint at a much deeper problem. Transfers have not been on the required level.
Chelsea were crying out for improvements last summer when Nemanja Matic, Diego Costa and John Terry were leaving. To that trio you can add David Luiz who has become persona non grata around West London under Conte. That is the heart and soul of a Premier League title-winning team.
Chelseaa��s recruitment department did not step it up and give their first-teamers something to think about. The BluesA�have regressed and regressed badly. Alarm bells should have been ringing as early as the Community Shield in August.
Kante can do plenty to paper over the cracks as he is a one-man midfield. Without him this plan was doomed to fail.
In it Eden Hazard is expected to work selflessly as a false centre forward. His role in an attacking sense is limited to instigating counter-attacks whenever possession-heavy opponents lose the ball.
That might be fine if Chelsea had a little more ambition. But they were routinely coming forward with only three men a�� Hazard, Pedro and Willian a�� while a fourth in an off-key Victor Moses got forward only intermittently.
Hazarda��s best qualities are sacrificed in a team like this. He does not work well with his back to goal. Fans prefer to see him take possession somewhere high on the left, cut in and take shots or provide through balls.
To willingly nullify your best attacking player requires the ultimate payoff of the result. It came against neither Barca a�� albeit unluckily a�� nor City.
“I think the target was to be solid until the end and then try to put one in at the end,a�? Olivier Giroud said of the tactic. a�?Obviously, when you concede just after half-time, it is a kick in the leg a little bit but we still thought we could come back at the end. It was not enough but City deserved to win.
“It is always easy to say that after the game but if Eden had an opportunity to score, we could have said it was the best choice. Obviously it was difficult today. I am not the coach and the coach makes the team. We have to respect that and give our best no matter who is on the pitch.a�?
If the Barca draw convinced Conte that the system could be tried again then this disgrace of a showing should see it consigned to the dustbin unless they are playing Barca again. Even then it will come with no guarantees.
This was a performance of such limited quality and ambition that Chelsea found themselves on the bad end of a couple of Premier League records. No team has ever completed more passes than the 902 City managed here. No player has managed more touches than the 174 by Ilkay Gundogan. How jealous Hazard must have been of those figures; he hit 20 passes on the day. Courtois, his goalkeeper, made 45.
Some of those City passes and touches were delivered too easily. One unforgivable passage of play in the 75th minute saw Chelsea filter back into their defensive shape slowly, allow passes to be interchanged at will in front of them, before finally approaching their adversaries in possession at walking pace.
Sky commentator Gary Neville raged against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final last week for their walking football. He wona��t be the only one unimpressed by Chelseaa��s efforts on Sunday.
Maybe thata��s just how good Guardiola is. He reduces otherwise decent teams to the role of jobbers. No team has a good plan for City other than to dig in, soak it up and hope for the best. Youa��ll get lucky every now and again as Wigan proved recently. But ita��s not enough. Ita��s certainly not enough for a team like Chelsea and a player like Hazard.
He is 27 nowA�and has a few more seasons at his peak. ThereA�remains significant disquiet at the Bridge over their playmakera��s new contract. What he was asked to do at the Etihad – and the standard of his team-mates at present – should have him think twice about his next move. Indeed he did not shake the hand of his coach Conte when finally replaced late on.
There is clearly more upheaval and more new arrivals imminent at Chelsea this summer. It would be amazing if Conte lasted through to August at this rate while a clear-out on the playing side can be expected. Hazard might well look at that mess coming down the line and think his interests are better served elsewhere.
Although hea��s got a couple of league titles to his name, he has not been part of a dominant Chelsea team a�� an era-defining team like Jose Mourinhoa��s back-to-back title winners or the 2012 team that won the Champions League.
He has played his part in their big recent successes but there is a lack of a plan, a lack of identity and a lack of promise at present. If Hazard decides to leave he will not be short of suitors. One thing is for sure, he would be forgiven for thinking that he deserves better.