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Manchester City flex their muscles and prove they are ready to defend their title with Chelsea win

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Hopefully whoever snaffled Bernardo Silva’s shirt in the away end at Stamford Bridge owns a tumble dryer. The colouring had turned a deeper shade of blue by the time he threw the bouquet.

A kit drenched in sweat, a shift that epitomised Manchester City’s statement to the Premier League that they are still quite good after all.

Daunting trips to Chelsea and Liverpool left City supporters fearing the possibility of falling nine points behind in the title race by the next international break.

Manchester City started a daunting week with an impressively dominant win over Chelsea

Manchester City started a daunting week with an impressively dominant win over Chelsea

Pep Guardiola's side have big games ahead away at Paris Saint-Germain followed by Liverpool

Pep Guardiola’s side have big games ahead away at Paris Saint-Germain followed by Liverpool

But here was a timely reminder they are ready for another defence of their crown, when it had been expected Chelsea would lay down another marker about their own credentials.

Pure dominance, Chelsea failing to register a shot on target in a home game for the first time in 18 years. This was the sort of supreme performance rarely seen on the biggest stage and the nature of it evoked memories of City’s one-goal victory at the same stadium during Pep Guardiola’s first title-winning season.

Back then, in September 2017, there were raucous scenes in the dressing room. This time, the coaching staff spent the hour or so after full-time relaxing in the dugout with their feet up, chatting over what had transpired and how comfortably the hosts were nullified.

The victory also spoke to a single-mindedness within Guardiola’s group. The manager has talked up his enthusiasm for this campaign by describing the feverish attitude of his players on the training ground and here, finally, was some tangible evidence to back that up. Silva — who has wanted to leave the club in both the last two summers for personal reasons — summed that up by running the game in unfamiliar territory.

Bernardo Silva who has wanted to leave the club ran the game as a holding midfielder

Bernardo Silva who has wanted to leave the club ran the game as a holding midfielder

‘What a performance,’ Guardiola said of the Portuguese. ‘Holding midfielder is not his role but he knows exactly how to play it and how to anticipate what is going to happen, with the ball or without the ball. 

‘All I want is for Bernardo to be happy, here or anywhere. All I want is his happiness because he’s a guy who deserves the best. You cannot play in this way if you are not happy, it’s impossible.’

Silva’s displays just after New Year, during a scarcely believable winning run, went some way to defining City last season and these are the days that show why Guardiola leans on him so heavily. Despite a desire to play elsewhere, Silva gives the club everything.

It was a display of pure dominance from City as Chelsea failed to register a shot on target

It was a display of pure dominance from City as Chelsea failed to register a shot on target

‘It is no surprise,’ Guardiola added. ‘He was an incredible signing for us, because he’s an exceptional person. I’ll never forget the second Premier League we won, with 98 points. He was the best player in England. After that he dropped a little bit, but now he’s back.

‘If, at the end, he (still) wants to leave and decides to go, the only thing I can say is that the club that gets Bernardo is going to take one of the best players in the world.’

Guardiola has a few of those at his disposal and there was a sense of restored calm watching him limber up for a post-match interview with the club’s in-house television channel on the touchline.

Chelsea's £97.5m signing Romelu Lukaku barely had a touch due to a lack of service

Chelsea’s £97.5m signing Romelu Lukaku barely had a touch due to a lack of service

The Catalan, a golf obsessive, used a microphone to practise his swing without a care in the world. He wasn’t doing that last weekend after a turgid goalless draw at home to Southampton.

The questions then were about a striker — or lack of one — and those will persist. Even on Saturday, after an eye-catching display, there was that nagging feeling a ruthless goalscorer might have taken them out of sight. Huge chances came and went.

Then again, the elite £97.5million signing Romelu Lukaku barely had a touch. Twenty-one of them, to be exact, and now the focus shifts from Guardiola and his tactical flaws to Thomas Tuchel, the man who had bested the master on each of the last three occasions, including that night in Porto. Tuchel gently admitted he was not blameless for an anaemic response to City’s slickness.

‘You need to be at the very best level in all parts of the game and we were clearly not,’ Tuchel said. ‘We are together in this, so we need the best level from the coach and from the players.

‘We will look into it with all the self-reflection needed and in the end we have to accept they were better than us. They were in better shape, sharper.’

City should not have looked in better shape, with Rodri and Aymeric Laporte returning from injury, Kevin De Bruyne and the effervescent false nine Phil Foden working towards match fitness. Guardiola must feel they are just beginning to click into gear and will be impressing that they make it count at Anfield on Sunday.

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