By James Ducker at Etihad Stadium
Manchester City started their title coronation with £484 million worth of talent on the bench and their second string still had far too much for Chelsea. Sam Allardyce has come out with a series of bemusing remarks since taking over at Leeds a few weeks ago, but the former England manager may have been on to something when he said City have the best two teams in the Premier League.
And therein lies the challenge facing the chasing pack as they wonder how to stop a third successive City title from becoming a fourth next season, how they crack the armoury of Pep Guardiola’s perfectly honed system, not least as it will also be retooling this summer.
Moreover, how they stop City threatening to become to England what Bayern Munich, winners of the previous 10 Bundesliga titles, are to Germany – a once unthinkable prospect on these shores but a reflection of the champions’ strength.
It comes to something when you can leave Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, John Stones, Ederson and captain Ilkay Gundogan on the bench and barely skip a beat against a team that has had more than £550 million lavished on it over the past year.
Spoiler: City are not the only ones who spend a lot of money.
To put things into some context, those eight outfield substitutes have scored 64 goals between them in the Premier League this season, which is more than 14 other clubs have each managed in the campaign, including Manchester United, and 28 more than Chelsea, a team that beat them in the Champions League final two years ago.
Kalvin Phillips, Cole Palmer and Sergio Gomez all made their first league starts of the season against Chelsea, goalkeeper Stefan Ortega his second, Rico Lewis his eighth, Aymeric Laporte his 10th and Julian Alvarez, the game’s goalscorer, his 12th, and still City enjoyed 65 per cent possession and all the control.
Jack Grealish celebrates with the Premier League trophy
Alvarez scores City’s winner
Some suggested Kevin De Bruyne was a ‘Chelsea reject’ when City signed him
It is a convenient argument now to say City have simply hoovered up the best players when it avoids some of the realities, and ignores how Guardiola has elevated so many of them into something much greater than they were previously.
Raheem Sterling experienced the Pep effect at close quarters for seven years and, as he left the field to polite applause after a difficult afternoon in what has been a torrid 12 months since his move to Chelsea from City, you had to wonder how much he must long, deep down, to be back in Guardiola’s bosom.
Alvarez’s goal, a smart finish from Cole Palmer’s pass as Chelsea were cut open through the middle, was City’s 100th in all competitions at home this season. The next most scored by a team in their own stadium across Europe’s big five leagues this term? Bayern, with 66. No wonder Grealish talks about the champions feeling “unstoppable” at the Etihad.
Come the final whistle, thousands of City fans ignored pleas to stay in the stands by flooding the pitch. After decades in the shadow of their neighbours, United, this was another occasion for the City fanbase to savour and there may be cause for even greater celebration to follow.