This was the Premier League champions against the champions-elect and the gulf felt even greater than the extraordinary 25 points that now separates fifth-placed Chelsea from top-of-the-table Manchester City.
One of the songs sung by the City fans is “we’re not really here”, a reminder of the days in the late 1990s when they were a third-tier team, but it was Chelsea who were not really here for this fixture.
Their travelling supporters, who sarcastically cheered when their team finally won a corner after 42 minutes, will have wondered what this was all about because it was a 1-0 hammering with the reaction of their star player, Eden Hazard, summing it all up.
Asked to play, again, as a ‘false’ number nine he ambled around disbelievingly as the ball sailed over his head until he was eventually substituted late on. Hazard then failed to acknowledge head coach Antonio Conte and although the Italian will point to the narrowness of the scoreline as some kind of misguided justification for his approach it felt more like a relegation team arriving at the Etihad than one which won the league last season.
Pep Guardiola had hailed Conte as a master tactician but there was nothing masterful about these tactics. It was five-at-the-back and try and hold on, to try and frustrate a vastly superior opponent for as long as possible. Although Conte may also point to the fact that it was a defensive error, by Andreas Christensen, that led to the only goal.
But that masks the poverty of his team’s performance and this result leaves them five points behind fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur in the fight to qualify for the Champions League. A fight they are losing.
Damagingly for Conte it was a fourth successive away defeat, and a fourth loss in their last five league games.
That would suggest he is under even more pressure but it is pretty certain that he is leaving at the end of this season, come what may, and he did little to suggest otherwise. The problem for Chelsea is the effect this has on the rest of their campaign.
For City it is 14 home wins in a row; they are 18 points clear at the top and need just 12 more points from nine games to be champions – although, probably, only 11 points given their vastly superior goal difference which should have been enhanced further in this match. Or this mis-match.
City also set a new record of 902 passes completed in a Premier League match, with an astonishing 68 per cent of those in the Chelsea half, and with their ‘holding’ midfielder – not that he had much defensive work to do – Ilkay Gundogan – having 181 touches. Again, the most ever in a Premier League game. Usually such statistics are compiled against relegation fodder. Not Champions League teams.
The one surprise was that City only had 71.1 per cent possession. It felt far more than that while, for Chelsea, the sight of Christensen, Antonio Rudiger or Cesar Azpilicueta hoofing the ball aimlessly up the pitch as they tried to relief the pressure was dispiriting. Sure they missed N’Golo Kante, who had to pull out through illness despite travelling to the stadium, but that only goes so far while it should be pointed out that Conte sanctioned the purchases of both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud who only came on late into this game.