Dubai: Following Manchester City’s 6-0 demolition of Chelsea on Sunday to retake top spot in the Premier League, forward Raheem Sterling said it was “just another win and three points” in the bank.
This shows Pep Guardiola’s side are keeping their feet on the ground as Liverpool are level on points with the defending champions and have a game in hand.
But this was way more than three points. This was a huge statement to Jurgen Klopp’s Reds and also to Chelsea, City’s opposition in the League Cup final at Wembley on February 24.
While City are flying, the Stamford Bridge side are in complete disarray. They are now sixth in the league, one point behind born-again fourth-placed Manchester United — a team they held an 11-point advantage over when Jose Mourinho departed Old Trafford in December.
They look lost on the field, with David Luiz, Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger, Ross Barkley and Cesar Azpilicueta all culpable at one (or more) time or another in allowing the marauding City strike force a criminal amount of space in front of goal.
Elsewhere, they were equally embarrassing, with Jorginho misplacing more passes than he completed and new recruit Gonzalo Higuain alongside the wantaway Eden Hazard showing no appetite to finish the chances that did come their way.
Such humiliation and a place outside the top four usually means only one thing at Chelsea, a phone call from famously impatient and demanding owner Roman Abramovich to the manager to inform him to clear his desk.
Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho (twice), Avram Grant (reportedly at half-time during a game), Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink (twice), Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez and Antonio Conte have all had the dreaded call since the Russian took over in 2003 and all the signs point toward Maurizio Sarri — only appointed in the summer — being relieved of his duties sooner rather than later.
The Italian oversaw one of the darkest days in recent memory for Chelsea — a 4-0 capitulation to Bournemouth — at the end of January, but that may become a footnote in his short Chelsea career after Sunday’s annihilation.
The chasm between the Blues and City was astounding and Sarri had no answer as to how to stem the tide of attacks on the field, playing as many as three of his more talented players out of their preferred position.
He has often spoken out about his struggle to motivate his players, but his meek acceptance of defeat on Sunday will win him no friends in South West London.
“It is difficult to explain what happened,” he said after marching straight up the tunnel at full-time without even shaking Guardiola’s hand. “The first five or six minutes went well but that is not enough.” There is a contender for understatement of the season, right there. “We are conceding a lot of goals.”
When asked if his position was under threat, Sarri answered: “I don’t know you’ll have to ask the club.”
Hardly the fighting spirit Abramovich, the fans and the “unmotivated” players are looking for from their boss.
Back to City. Their hunger to become the first team in a decade to defend the Premier League title is plain to see. A blip in December saw them slip behind Liverpool in the race and, following a shock defeat to Newcastle two weeks back, they were staring at the possibility of a seven-point deficit.
Guardiola himself lauded City’s never-say-die attitude after they regained top spot last week thanks to a return to winning ways and back-to-back draws for Liverpool.
But Sunday’s dismantling of arguably the third best team in the league was something else and must be sending shivers down the spine of even the most confident of the Anfield faithful. They have also given a huge boost to their goal-difference equation, which may prove vital in May.
Class and confidence is oozing through the City side again, from a goalkeeper who plays like a sweeper all the way through to goal machine Sergio Aguero.
The Argentine — already City’s all-time top scorer in all competitions — claimed two more records against Chelsea, his treble taking him to the top of City’s all-time league scoring charts and drew him level with Alan Shearer for the most hat-tricks in the Premier League.
So it wasn’t just three points, it was one massive point being made to City’s rivals, in the league and the other three cup competitions there are still competing for — including the one most City fans want most: the Uefa Champions League.
On this form, there is no reason to see why they can’t go all the way in all four.
As for Sarri, he may not even be in charge come the League Cup final in two weeks’ time.
Premier League hat-tricks
11 Sergio Aguero, Alan Shearer
9 Robbie Fowler
8 Michael Owen, Harry Kane, Thierry Henry
7 Wayne Rooney
6 Luis Suarez