Even the magical realists in the Chelsea board couldn’t have seen this coming within months of getting their dream man.
Well, Chelsea fans, sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. Sometimes, though, the bear grabs you, slams you around until he’s bored, shreds you with its claws turning you into delicate pâté, and spreads you on a rosemary ciappe before consuming you with a glass of richly textured rioja. Six-nil. How did we get here?
It all started so well. Chelsea’s press was working, Eden Hazard was breaking ankles, and Gonzalo Higuain was getting on the ball in shooting positions. It was a fantastic four minutes.
Then Jorginho gave away a free kick in midfield, and Marcos Alonso didn’t just fall asleep – he took an Ambien, donned a sleeping mask, put in ear plugs, snuggled under his blankets, and achieved several REM cycles. While Kevin De Bruyne waited for the heavies to make their way forward, he spotted Bernardo Silva sitting completely unmarked out wide in the space Alonso usually operates. The defender had, for reasons known only to himself, decided to mosey over to the middle to triple mark Sergio Aguero. What followed was classic Manchester City: a ball across the box for the wide forward to take an open shot at goal. 1-0.
I groaned as the ball crossed the line. Not because my team was down a goal to one of the best sides in the world, but because I knew the reaction of Chelsea “influencers” was going to be particularly bilious after the match. There is an inexplicably large audience hungry for videos of grown men shouting at their phones while wearing Chelsea gear, and Alonso is a favourite target of these bellowers.
Alonso’s teammates were also shocked by his sudden somnolence. Even N’Golo Kante, the world’s most lovable man, was staring daggers at the Spaniard. Hazard was the only player to not harangue him. It is possible he felt partially at fault, as Alonso had attempted to pass along his man on the Chelsea forward a split second before De Bruyne restarted play. More likely, though, Hazard was already imagining what he would look like in the white of Real Madrid. The thought must have inspired him, as the Belgian was animated enough to run through City’s entire team before unleashing an attempt at an equalizer in the 11th minute.
Hazard has been teasing a Madrid move for years. Every international break brings fresh quotes and a new round of speculation whether he’ll leave this transfer window. I put a lot of stock in the interpretation of body language, and Hazard has thrown his hands up in the air exasperatedly more times this season than the rest of his time in London put together. This tells me he’s finally off this summer. That is going to be a difficult time for us Chelsea supporters, and we will need to be kind to each other. Consider this match an opportunity to practice forbearance ahead of the video of Eden Hazard doing keep-ups in the Bernabeu.
Chelsea actually looked like it could still get back in the match right up until City’s second goal of the evening. After shrugging off an anemic tackle from Jorginho, Aguero blasted a shot past Kepa Arrizabalaga from 25 yards out. It was a death blow. There was no chance this Chelsea team was coming back from that. 2-0.
Higuain had done a good job in his previous Chelsea outings hiding his annoyance with the mistakes of his teammates. The mask was already slipping even before Aguero would get his second goal of the match. In fairness to El Pipita though, if I was on the same playing field as Ross Barkley when he inexplicably headed the ball straight to Sergio m*********** Aguero in the six yard box, I’d have a hard time covering my disgust too. I have watched replay after replay of this, and I still am none the wiser what Barkley is trying to do here. 3-0.
Just how bad of a day was it going to be for Chelsea? It was so bad N’Golo Kante failed to track his runner. Sterling got the ball on the left and Kante switched off long enough to let Aguero set up camp in a huge pocket of space in Chelsea’s 18 yard box. Sterling zipped the ball into him, but Antonio Rudiger just managed to stab the ball away. Straight to Ilkay Gundogan. 20 yards out. Bang!. 4-0.
Sarri went out to the touchline to shout at his charges after watching them concede four stupid goals after just 25 minutes. The camera caught the City staff looking at Sarri as he made his way back to his seat. Arteta looked genuinely worried for him, Guardiola apologetic. There was already a fringe #SarriOut campaign going into this match, and rumours of his sacking are already flying. No doubt, many of the voices calling for Sarri’s head were the same voices bellyaching about Mourinho and Conte’s boring brand of football. Well, we certainly have exciting football now.
But there’s a reason why the club can’t get rid of the Italian boss. Several million reasons, actually. The board invested heavily to secure him from Napoli, along with his lieutenant, Jorginho. Chelsea has gone all-in on Sarrismo with Higuain’s loan signing and some fans want to fold before the river. Like it or not, we’re stuck with him unless we reach Mourinho dumpster fire territory.
There were stretches where Sarriball actually worked at the Etihad. Jorginho was passing through the lines, Higuain was dangerous, and Hazard was motoring around the pitch. It’s just too bad it all happened after Chelsea was already down by four goals. The visitors weren’t all that bad collectively in the first half, but the individual errors were too terrifically boneheaded to overcome.
It didn’t improve after the break though, and the Citizens set up shop in the opposition half. The Chelsea back four could only hold out so long before making another catastrophic error. This time it was Azpilicueta’s turn, and he clumsily brought Raheem Sterling down in the box after the English international raced past him. Aguero stepped up, completed his hat trick from the spot, and left the match to a standing ovation. 5-0.
This is usually the point where we fans urge the players to show some fight and launch into as many wild, ill-advised tackles as possible. I confess I fall into this camp. Thankfully, save for a few retaliatory yellow cards, no one tempted Mike Dean into his 100th red card. Random violence probably was not the answer anyway.
So, what is the answer? A popular response on social media is to “play da yoof.” I get this. I really do. Especially in light of Callum Hudson-Odoi playing footsie with Bayern Munich all January. But what lost this match for Chelsea? It wasn’t Sarriball. It was a series of colossal screw ups. Young players are not known for mistake-free play. True, it was the veterans committing the errors earlier, but Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed to get in on the act in the 80th minute. Olaksandr Zinchenko’s movement and David Silva’s passing completely bamboozled the young England midfielder. Another ball across the box. Another free shot for a wide forward. Another goal for Sterling. 6-0.
The DJ began playing Chelsea’s victory tune, Madness’s “One Step Beyond,” at full time. What an understatement. The second track, Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” seemed much more appropriate. Because love of the club will tear our fanbase apart. Supporters are understandably upset; this is one of the few matches worthy of a quickly recorded shouty rant. There are arguments and debates about Sarriball, Jorginho, directors of football, Conte, “da yoof,” Higuain, Alonso, Luiz, Kante’s position, and more. Why? Because we love this club. Because it’s fun and interesting. If it’s not, then take a step back and ask yourself why you feel the need argue with strangers on the internet so vituperatively. If you need to get something off your chest, take some friends out to the pub and buy a round before launching in on your diatribe against the club’s current transfer policy.
Be kind to each other, Chelsea fans. Abide, as St. Paul urges the Corinthians, in faith, hope, and love. If St. Paul isn’t your thing, maybe the Coen brothers are – and the Dude abides. I take comfort in that.