16 Conclusions on Man City 1-0 Billion-pound bottle jobs: Chelsea laughable, Guardiola complains, Jackson

Matt Stead
Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher, Pep Guardiola and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City and Nicolas Jackson
Chelsea and Manchester City were different kinds of ridiculous

Nicolas Jackson reached peak form as Chelsea were laughably wasteful against a knackered Man City. But there is a problem with Pep Guardiola’s complaints.


1) The “blue billion-pound bottlejobs” tag was always going to be difficult to shift. If Gary Neville did not secure the trademark as soon as he uttered that line in February, he is a fool.

Chelsea have played twice at Wembley this season. In the first stage of their evolution under Mauricio Pochettino, they have been unfortunate to play for trophies against two excellent opponents coached by phenomenal managers almost uniquely deep into their tenures in the modern game, but lucky to face them at their most vulnerable.

They let the Carabao Cup slip from their grasp against a Liverpool side decimated by injuries and full of inexperienced academy products. They allowed an FA Cup semi-final to get away from them against a Manchester City team quite clearly devoid of energy and, at times, belief after exiting the Champions League in gut-wrenching circumstances three days prior.

Pochettino said the assessment was “not fair” when it was first delivered; it remains far more accurate than any shot they mustered across 90 infuriating minutes here.


2) Some will inevitably use the confirmation of Pochettino’s seventh trophyless season in English football as sufficient ammunition to tarnish him with the some bottling brush. It would be a gross misinterpretation of a game in which he set his team up perfectly to win but the players, at least in the final moment, failed to execute his plan in increasingly baffling ways.

Pochettino has soiled himself on the big stage before. Heung-min Son at left wing-back this was not. The players simply let him down. Jermaine Jenas mournfully telling us “he doesn’t deserve this” as the cameras cut to a “hurting” Chelsea manager on the touchline was a bit weird but the sentiment was broadly right.


3) It almost feels pointless talking about the shots Chelsea missed. The best way to sum up their ludicrous profligacy is in considering the shots they didn’t even manage to take from some laughably advantageous positions.

A wonderful move on the half-hour mark ended with Nicolas Jackson five yards or so beyond any Manchester City defender before rounding Stefan Ortega, yet not getting an effort away and having his cut-back to Cole Palmer intercepted.

Some even better approach play from a short goal kick resulted in Moises Caicedo failing to control a Marc Cucurella centre with Noni Madueke waiting, the pair up against only Nathan Ake.

Shortly after the hour, Palmer did brilliantly to beat Manuel Akanji and play Caicedo in behind again but the actual most expensive player in British football history got it caught under his feet before crossing to no-one at the back post.

Then in the 90th minute, Ben Chilwell was released down the left-hand side but took one touch too many with Raheem Sterling waiting unmarked in the middle.

Manchester City ended up having more shots but that is not a fair reflection of a game in which Chelsea’s best chances, when they legitimately carved through the opposition defence beautifully numerous times, did not even result in an effort of any kind. Their decision-making in the final third as a collective was atrocious.


4) Manchester City looked like a broken team for so much of the game. Their physical levels were depleted and just as understandably, they seemed mentally drained. Pep Guardiola made four changes to his starting line-up from the morale-sapping Real Madrid defeat and their start betrayed a team still processing the events of that match.

Chelsea’s intensity caused them a problem all game but particularly in the opening 10 minutes, when Palmer, Conor Gallagher and Jackson all dispossessed Manchester City player (John Stones, Rodri and Julian Alvarez respectively) in their own half.

The last of those, Jackson’s tackle on Alvarez, led to Palmer trying to lob Ortega from 40 yards or so. At that point it genuinely seemed as though Manchester City would struggle to keep up.


5) Mind you, of course Manchester City were struggling. They were presumably still knackered from their most recent FA Cup replay against Huddersfield in 2017.


6) Kyle Walker embodied an uncharacteristic frailty and sloppiness in the champions. Some showboating with needless 180-degree spins on the ball was a brave and predictably punished decision against a pressing Gallagher; one slip a few minutes later led to a Chelsea corner.

One of the many hundred Jackson misses came as a result of Walker not even attempting to watch the ball at the back post when marking the Chelsea forward. The Manchester City defender played Caicedo in for one of those opportunities the Blues could not manage to shoot from. And then on the hour came some very clumsy defending when Jackson was played in behind.

Perhaps taken aback at the sight of a player providing a decent challenge against him in a #footrace, Walker pushed the boundaries for a penalty uncomfortably close with a barge which eventually sent the Chelsea forward tumbling. It just about fell in his favour but it was undoubtedly a gamble; the wise choice would probably have been to let Jackson mess it up himself.


7) Without wanting to contribute to any Jackson pile-on – 13 goals and five assists while leading the line for a volatile, profligate and transitional team in his second season of professional top-flight football deserves more credit – this was a performance for the ages.

That bungled chance when clean through on the half hour was bad enough but his pièce de incompétence came four minutes into the second half. Jackson did at least shoot when Gallagher found him in space behind the defence but it was far too central for Ortega. Chelsea maintained the pressure and Palmer then found Jackson at the back post with the cross which so marooned Walker, yet the Senegalese’s header bounced off the ground and into the unwitting keeper’s arm.

It was a basically a budget version of Jerzy Dudek in the 2005 Champions League final, with Jackson fittingly enough playing the role of Andriy Shevchenko to absolute perfection.

He has the makings of a genuinely excellent centre-forward and it isn’t even difficult to see if agendas are put to one side. The question is whether Chelsea can afford to have a striker endure such obvious growing pains when the rest of the team is going through a similar phase in their individual and collective development.


8) The key to how Chelsea unsettled Manchester City, particularly in the first half, was evident in the battle between Gallagher and Rodri. And even that fails to capture how one-sided it was once more in the England midfielder’s favour.

Gallagher was relentless in the press and much like in their Premier League meetings, it was most evident in how he nullified Rodri. Fatigue cannot fully legislate for the Spaniard’s 87.2% pass accuracy – his joint fourth-lowest of the season, the exact same as against Chelsea in February.

It is not an entirely unserious suggestion for Manchester City to try and sign Gallagher in the summer; he is one of few who possess the Rodri cheat sheet.


9) The pure profit will entice Chelsea to entertain any summer offers not only for Gallagher, but also actual Champions League semi-finalist Ian Maatsen, promising striker Armando Broja and very possibly their other best player in this game.

Trevoh Chalobah was excellent and largely has been since making his first appearance of the season against Manchester City in that February draw. His passing was as crisp as his defending was determined.

Thiago Silva was great alongside him. The Brazilian’s tears at the final whistle betray his likely departure when his contract expires at the end of the season; Chelsea willingly offloading their two best centre-halves so soon after starting them in a cup semi-final the £35m Benoit Badiashile watched from the bench, while £38.8m Axel Disasi was tormented for 20 minutes by Jeremy Doku, does provide a neat summary of their current direction.


10) Doku basically changed the game. It seemed like a strange substitution in the 66th minute not necessarily because of his introduction, but for the removal of Manchester City’s most potent threat to that point.

Jack Grealish had been clattered – and was left palpably furious by – Caicedo moments prior, but looked fine to continue after treatment. Yet his number was up despite creating most of his team’s chances by that point.

It turns out Guardiola has a decent idea of what he is doing. Doku can be a bit of a rudimentary option in such a meticulous side but that is his beauty: amid teammates passing patiently to find the angles and the moments, here is a winger who gets the ball and runs really fast at a defender. Malo Gusto had a really good game but started to struggle when the equation changed.

Doku’s part in the winning goal, attracting the interest of Caicedo and Gusto on the edge of the area before finding De Bruyne on the underlap with a clever pass, underlined the intelligence which meshes gloriously with his dribbling to make him a perfect Guardiola player.


READ MOREFive reasons Pochettino has *actually* had a good first season at Chelsea


11) The half-time change Guardiola made was arguably as important. John Stones was on the ropes for much of the first half, producing one stunning block for a Madueke shot but otherwise chasing shadows and forlornly appealing for offsides against Jackson.

He was replaced by Ruben Dias at the break and while Manchester City were not immediately more solid – it was the Portuguese who stepped out and failed to intercept Gallagher’s pass to Jackson for the shot Ortega saved – there was an undeniable improvement. Chelsea were certainly less threatening in the second half.


12) It was Dias who got the block on the late Chilwell cross, which was basically Chelsea’s last opportunity despite there being a minute left of normal time and eight more for stoppages.

Quite how the Portuguese was allowed to put it out for a corner is unknown. A quick counter was knitted together impressively by Jackson’s first-time pass to a fresh Chilwell, who was rampaging down the left. His first touch was perfect, opening up the pitch, getting the ball out of his stride and eliminating Dias as a factor. His second should have been sent towards Sterling, also introduced as a late substitute and completely free in the middle. Yet he slowed up and ambled into the area before putting in an aimless cross which was deflected behind.

While generally against the use of screenshots to properly assess moments in games – particularly for fouls as they completely strip context from situations – the ones doing the rounds of the Jackson one-on-one and Chilwell’s non-existent cross should be encouraged as they capture Chelsea’s perplexing choices in attack perfectly.


13) Funnier still was Mykhaylo Mudryk winning a free-kick against Walker – in a remarkably similar tackle to the prior one on Jackson which was judged not to be a penalty – in the last gasps of stoppage time. About halfway between the corner flag and the area, with 97:40 on the clock, it was a huge moment.

Mudryk stood over it, took a few steps and whipped it beyond the back post, the ball bouncing harmlessly out for a goal kick. Silva threw his hands up in frustration and yeah, fair enough really. Chelsea’s set-pieces were dreadful all evening but that was a bit on the nose.


14) The shout for handball against Grealish from a Palmer free-kick was a strange one. It felt spiritually far more like a penalty than many of those given recently, with the Manchester City forward’s arm away from his body and deflecting the ball as he brought it back in. But it was not given and going by the inaccessible, vague and subjective laws set, it could be shoved awkwardly into a drawer labelled ‘right decision’ as the debate disappeared into the ether.

The best bit, though, was Manchester City being given the green light to take the subsequent goal kick once the requisite checks had been made to see whether an obvious Grealish touch was enough of an infringement. They could pore over the replays but not overrule Michael Oliver and his team somehow not spotting it should have been a corner – which Chelsea would obviously have wasted anyway.


15) Bernardo Silva getting the goal was satisfying, considering the sheer depravity of his penalty against Real in midweek. He was similarly subdued but made the difference in the pivotal moment on this occasion.

Perhaps no player was as impacted by that crushing midweek disappointment. “I don’t understand how we survived,” said Guardiola post-match and it was a fair point; the mental strength and physical durability required to make it through was unimaginable.

But as understandable as some aspects of his complaints about the schedule were, it is hard to take them in any way seriously for as long as these elite teams view such problems only through the prism of their own perceived injustice.

Guardiola wondered why the game couldn’t be played on the Sunday with Coventry facing Manchester United on the Saturday, but Chelsea play Arsenal next Tuesday and might justifiably make the same point about their own rest.

The Gunners beat Wolves on Saturday, having played in the Champions League like Manchester City on Wednesday, but in Munich as opposed to at home. And Arsenal had played the previous Sunday, while Guardiola’s side were in action the prior Saturday.

Arsenal play next Tuesday; Manchester City play next Thursday. Guardiola’s point would be so much more powerful if he cited Arsenal’s fixture congestion too.

If player welfare truly is the focus of the arguments managers and teams put forward, then it must be players of all teams rather than just their own. Until then, it just comes across as pure self-interest.


16) He did well for the goal but De Bruyne getting the Jenas nod of approval as man of the match was hilarious. All four of his shots were off-target, no player was dispossessed more often and aside from the cross which would not have found a teammate but for the deflection off Djordje Petrovic’s foot, he created no chances. The Belgian looked absolutely exhausted throughout.

“I’ve never seen De Bruyne put in as many tackles in as he has today,” was the co-commentator’s justification. One. He made one.