A sense of finality crept across the Sky Blue as Wednesday’s match ended. Manchester City couldn’t overcome Chelsea’s incredible form and, with only eight fixtures left in the Premier League season, finishing in the top four is Pep Guardiola's primary goal.
There are a number of positive takeaways from City’s performance, along with clear signs of what needs to shift. Here are three things we learned:
1 - Between the lines
At almost every phase of the match, City used through-balls and triangular passing with more success than most other matches this season.
The insightful runs of Leroy Sané and the one-touch work of Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and others allowed City to work the league leaders much more dynamically than one would assume by simply looking at the scoreline or listening to pundits.
If they continue to develop such skill and confidence, the foundation for following seasons will be well established. Incoming players will be expected to compliment and improve the manner in which Guardiola wants them to cover the pitch and coordinate with each other.
2 - Managing space
Eden Hazard’s first goal was a result of excessive space for both the shot and the preceding assist. On the flip side, his second goal came from an untidy Fernandinho tackle in the box. Both goals represent City’s struggle to play with the absolute composure required to get the points they need.
They have done much better defensively as time has gone on but a few openings per game have been enough to let the highest objectives for this year’s campaign slip beyond reach.
Pressing opponents higher up the pitch with be sought as one solution. Faster defenders, more refined and versatile players who can cover overlaps and then lead transitions back into possession will be on the shopping list for this summer.
3 - Viable Options
Jesús Navas and Fabian Delph have put forth stellar performances after a long time out of the lineup. Nolito looked confident in his brief appearance. Pablo Zabaleta, Gaël Clichy, and Bacary Sagna have all had their impact in supporting Pep’s transitional phase of the ‘City Project.’
Players and clubs run the risk of losing focus when talk of the summer and next year begin to ring out. For Manchester City this season, it looks like Pep will give players a chance to perform in these final stages and, so far, players like Navas and Delph have served the club and themselves quite well.
Their performances will most likely lead to improved chances in the transfer market, but the remaining chances to learn and perform under Pep Guardiola and to support the club will show how deeply the Sky Blue culture has been ingrained in these players.
Unfortunately, City’s season will be seen as largely underwhelming. They have had a number of glorious outings in this first season under Guardiola, but the inability to capitalize on constantly scoring more chances than their opponents has to be converted into something more successful in the near future.
Giving their fans enjoyable (ideally, successful) performances through the rest of the Premier League and FA Cup matches will be crucial to gaining as much ground as possible before they begin the personnel shifts of summer deals.