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Chelsea served brutal reminder of how far behind Man City they remain amid questions for Thomas Tuchel

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Chelsea’s title race is run.

In truth it did not take a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City to confirm that – but after witnessing this one-sided contest at the Etihad, it begs the question of whether they were ever realistic challengers to Pep Guardiola’s Premier League dominance.

It took a moment of brilliance from Kevin de Bruyne to separate the sides on the day, but that does not tell the whole story.

In a game that Chelsea simply had to win to keep their slim title hopes alive, they spent long periods in apparent awe of their opponents. City dominated possession to force the Blues further and further into retreat.

When Chelsea did get the ball, they were so short of inspiration or confidence that it was quickly squandered. At times it was difficult to remember that this was a meeting between the champions of Europe and the champions of England, such was the disparity in quality.

The result leaves Chelsea 13 points adrift of City midway through January, having held a six-point lead at the top as recently as November.

That was when they looked every bit genuine title contenders. But reality has bitten and this latest defeat was the eighth time in their last 12 league games that they have failed to win.

By comparison, City have won 12 on the run and that is the level that Chelsea must reach if they are to have any hope of breaking their rivals’ stranglehold on English football.

Simply put, this was not good enough – even in the context of missing Edouard Mendy, Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Andreas Christensen. This was not the performance of a team desperate to keep the title race alive or lay down any sort of a statement for the remainder of the season.

Thomas Tuchel will have questions to answer as a result. The German admitted on Friday that he got it wrong when the sides last played – another 1-0 City win in September. He declared his team were too passive on that day and it was the same here.

 (AP)
(AP)

City had close to 70 per cent possession in the first half, even if their only genuine clear-cut chance came as a result of Mateo Kovacic gifting possession to Jack Grealish on the edge of the box.

Only the brilliance of Kepa Arrizabalaga denied the £100million man, but it would have been no more than the home side deserved for their superiority.

By the time De Bruyne curled in his 20-yard shot with 20 minutes remaining, it was no less than City deserved.

True, Chelsea had provided more of an attacking threat in the second half – and Romelu Lukaku had forced a save from Ederson when one-on-one – but it would have had the feel of a smash and grab.

Not that Tuchel agreed, claiming: “We did not deserve to lose. We have won games like this against City.”

That may be correct, but in his first full season in charge the expectation was that Chelsea would go head-to-head with Guardiola.

Three wins against the Catalan last season – including the Champions League Final – were supposed to be a pointer of what was to come.

In each of those victories Chelsea had to concede possession and hit City on the break – but in neither meeting this term has there been the tactical astuteness to identify their opponents’ vulnerabilities.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

It has almost felt like Tuchel has waited for City to create their own problems, rather than exploiting them himself. As a result, Chelsea have allowed each of those games to bypass them and paid the price. This latest defeat has proved particularly costly.

Tuchel will not end his first full season with the title or even contend for it with a good four months still to run.

Chelsea sit second in the table but it is unlikely to be looked upon favourably by Roman Abramovich, who sanctioned the club-record signing of Lukaku in the summer.

The fact that Tuchel continues to struggle to get the best out of the Belgium international will not do him any favours either.

A contributing factor to Frank Lampard’s sacking last season was his inability to maximise the potential of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. The German pair have only fared marginally better under Tuchel.

Still, there is much more left in this season for Chelsea in the shape of cup competitions.

But returning Chelsea to the summit of English football was the target at the beginning of the season – and this was a brutal reminder of just how far off they remain.

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