Hopefully whoever stole Bernardo Silva’s shirt in the Stamford Bridge away game has a tumble dryer. The color had turned a deeper shade of blue by the time he tossed the bouquet.
A kit drenched in sweat, a shift that epitomized Manchester City’s statement to the Premier League that they’re pretty good after all.
Discouraging trips to Chelsea and Liverpool left City supporters fearful they would be nine points behind in the title race at the next international break.
Manchester City started a discouraging week with an impressively dominant victory over Chelsea
Pep Guardiola’s team has big games ahead of them at Paris Saint-Germain, followed by Liverpool
But here was a timely reminder that they are ready for another defense of their crown, when Chelsea had been expected to lay a new mark on their own credentials.
Pure dominance, Chelsea fail to register a shot on goal in a home game for the first time in 18 years. This was the kind of pinnacle performance rarely seen on the biggest stage and its very nature brought back memories of City’s single-goal victory in the same stadium during Pep Guardiola’s first title-winning season.
Then, in September 2017, there were raucous scenes in the locker room. This time, the coaching staff spent the hour or so after relaxing full-time in the dugout with their feet up, talking about what had happened and how comfortably the hosts were destroyed.
The win also spoke to a determination within Guardiola’s group. The manager expressed his enthusiasm for this campaign by describing the feverish attitude of his players on the training ground and here was finally some tangible evidence to back it up. Silva – who has wanted to leave the club for personal reasons for the past two summers – summed it up by playing the game in uncharted territory.
Bernardo Silva, who wanted to leave the club, led the game as a tenacious midfielder
“What an achievement,” Guardiola said of the Portuguese. “It’s not his role to hold a midfielder, but he knows exactly how to play it and how to anticipate what’s going to happen, with or without the ball.
“All I want is for Bernardo to be happy, here or anywhere. I only want his happiness because he is a man who deserves the best. You can’t play like this if you’re not happy, it’s impossible.’
Silva’s performances just after New Years, on a barely credible winning run, somewhat defined City last season and these are the days that show why Guardiola is leaning so heavily on him. Despite the desire to play elsewhere, Silva gives the club everything.
It was a display of sheer dominance from City when Chelsea failed to register a shot on goal
“It’s no surprise,” Guardiola added. “He was an incredible asset to us because he is an exceptional person. I will never forget the second Premier League we won, with 98 points. He was England’s best player. Then it went down a bit, but now it’s back.
“If he eventually wants to leave and decides to go, then I can only say that the club that Bernardo gets is going to get one of the best players in the world.”
Guardiola has a few at his disposal and there was a sense of restored calm as he lithely emerged for a post-match interview with the club’s internal television channel on the sidelines.
Chelsea’s £97.5million signing Romelu Lukaku barely had a touch due to lack of service
The Catalan, an obsessive golf enthusiast, used a microphone to practice his swing without a care in the world. He didn’t last weekend after a bloated goalless draw at home to Southampton.
The questions then were about a striker – or the lack of one – and they will continue to exist. Even on Saturday, after a standout display, there was that nagging feeling that a ruthless goalscorer could have taken them out of sight. Great opportunities came and went.
But again, the elite £97.5 million signing Romelu Lukaku barely had a touch. Twenty-one, to be exact, and now the focus is shifting from Guardiola and his tactical flaws to Thomas Tuchel, the man who defeated the master the last three times, including that night in Porto. Tuchel gently admitted he was not innocent of an anemic reaction to City’s slickness.
“You have to be at the very best level in all areas of the game and we clearly weren’t,” said Tuchel. “We are in this together, so we need the best level of the coach and the players.
“We’ll look at them with all necessary self-reflection and in the end we have to accept that they were better than us. They were in better shape, sharper.’
City couldn’t have looked better, with Rodri and Aymeric Laporte coming back from injury, Kevin De Bruyne and the bubbly false nine Phil Foden working on match fitness. Guardiola should feel like they’re just starting to snap into gear and will impress them making it count at Anfield on Sunday.