Pep Guardiola has professed his surprise at Chelsea’s poor defence of their Premier League title but praised Blues boss Antonio Conte for changing English football.
Conte secured the trophy in his first season at Stamford Bridge having arrived in the Premier League at the same time as Guardiola was appointed Manchester City boss.
The tables have turned this season and, as the pair prepare to clash at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, City hold a 16-point lead over neighbours Manchester United at the summit with Chelsea six points further adrift down in fifth.
Conte conceded after defeat to United last weekend that Champions League qualification will now be tough for the reigning champions.
While Chelsea were losing at Old Trafford, Guardiola was collecting his first silverware in England with victory over Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
They followed up that win with another 3-0 drubbing of the Gunners on Thursday night to take them within five wins of the title.
And Guardiola admits Chelsea’s feeble attempt to defend their crown caught him by surprise but believes it has been the high standard set by his champions-elect that has made all other seasons appear average.
“If you asked me at the beginning of the season, yes,” Guardiola replied when asked if he was surprised by Chelsea’s defence.
“And now too, yes, of course, but we are doing well. We dropped few points. That’s why. The results from United, Tottenham, Chelsea, they are good.
“They are results to fight for the Premier League. We have 75 points and they still want 78 or 79, so we need 81 or 82 to be champion.
“In March we have a lot of points and there is that gap. We did it really well. But Chelsea, United, Tottenham, Liverpool have done it well, good. We did it well. The reason why there is a lot of points is we have done it really well.”
Chelsea’s season has faltered to such an extent that there has been constant speculation over Conte’s immediate future – with the Italian batting away questions on the subject on a weekly basis.
But, despite their forgettable campaign as champions, Guardiola believes Conte’s approach will have a lasting effect on the English game.
“What Antonio has done here in the Premier League, maybe the people don’t realise,” he added.
“He introduced another way to attack with five at the back, another system, a lot of teams, even Arsenal, had to do a lot of imitating to do that.
“Tactically he is a master, he did it amazingly with the national team with Italy and when he went to Turin. I think Conte is going to leave something to English football. I’m sure of that.”