Back to the bad old days. It used to be that going to the Etihad was a sort of death sentence -- Chelsea would turn up, play indifferent football for 90 minutes and go home with zero points. We might as well not even have bothered. That had changed for the better over the past two seasons, but there was a lurking sense of impending doom with this trip. And so it proved. The Blues got a thoroughly one-sided 3-0 tonking from Manchester City, and although there were bright spots it seems silly not to point out that the match was, in essence, a thoroughly horrific performance.
The score stayed 1-0 until quite late, but the hosts should have been out of sight in the first half. Chelsea haven't looked as disorganised as they contrived to today in a long time. The midfield was so thoroughly broken it almost felt as though we'd been transported back to the dark days of André Villas-Boas, leaving the defence vulnerable for Sergio Agüero to merrily eviscerate.
It was only by the good graces of Asmir Begovic that Agüero failed to notch a hattrick. Making his full debut in the absence of the suspended Thibaut Courtois, the Bosnian was forced into a good stop inside the first minute and single-handedly kept City at bay with a series of excellent stops until he was finally beaten in the 31st minute.
The opener was hardly his fault. David Silva was left in space atop the Chelsea box, and John Terry had no idea whether to close him down or stay deep, eventually leading to Yaya Toure and Agüero doing an annoying dance through the befuddled comedy duo of Gary Cahill and Nemanja Matic. The situation might not have been so dangerous against a lesser striker, but Agüero was able to keep his balance for long enough to guide the ball inside the far post.
The Blues had looked spectacularly inept going forward, but the goal appeared to catalyse them into something approaching a response. Cesc Fábregas and Eden Hazard combined to great effect to set up what would have been a chance had the resulting pass gone to anyone not named Ramires (I'll spare you the horrific details of what became of that poor ball), and Diego Costa began to impose himself with his usual combination of hard work and pathological belligerence.
That belligerence might have put Chelsea a man to the good at the end of the first half when the striker managed to draw Fernandinho into a flying elbow as the two contested a header, but Martin Atkinson decided that a yellow card was the safe option and left City with their full complement. Costa was unimpressed, and had to be restrained from imparting his own more violent brand of justice upon the unfortunate Brazilian in the tunnel. Fortunately for Fernandinho's health (but unfortunately for the tabloids), Costa's teammates prevented him from doing anything spectacularly silly.
Halftime brought more than a heated exchanging of thoughts between players -- it drew a substitution from José Mourinho as well. Off, to the surprise of all involved, came John Terry. On in his place was Kurt Zouma.
For a while that seemed to work. City's attacking threat was temporarily curtailed, and Chelsea began to fashion real chances. Indeed, Ramires managed to walk the ball into the net following some spectacular work by Hazard on the left only to have his celebrations cut short by a bogus offside call, and a counterattack from Hazard and Costa would probably have resulted in more than a neat save by Joe Hart on any other day.
But it wasn't to be. The hosts slowly began to retaliate, pushing Chelsea deeper and deeper, and when they finally got their second everything fell apart. Branislav Ivanovic allowed Vincent Kompany to barge him out of the way on a set piece, opening up enough room for the City skipper to nod in off the post to make it 2-0.
The Blues were shell-shocked. The third was coughed up more or less immediately after a poor pass from Ivanovic was picked off, worked to the other side of the pitch and blasted in by Fernandinho, leaving the game well and truly dead. There was some positive play following Fernandinho's thunderbolt, but at 3-0 down that hardly mattered.
Yes, there was some bad luck, but the overall level of play was appalling. The defensive organisation, especially in the first half, was a complete joke; the failure to take advantage of the chances they did have similarly embarrassing. A loss at the Etihad in week two is hardly the end of the season, but two things have been made very clear: Manchester City have improved from last year. And Chelsea have not.