City and Chelsea played out a very tactically intense game at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had made two changes from their demanding game in Madrid during the week. City, on the other hand, were without their centre forward Sergio Aguero. City, of late, have been scoring goals by the truckload thanks to their attacking players. It would have been very interesting to see if Guardiola would have played Aguero and Jesus in such a big game. Instead, he deployed Fabian Delph in midfield. The game was controlled by Man City, and their set up caused Chelsea’s midfield a lot of trouble. Chelsea, on the other hand, were good but were unlucky to lose Morata early on.
When City were in possession, they played 3-4-3. City were playing with a back three, a midfield diamond, Sterling and Sane on either wing, and Gabriel Jesus as the lone striker as shown in the image below. City’s attacking shape was very innovative and Kyle Walker was used in a role more comfortably done by Phillip Lahm. He drifted into a midfield role at times in an attempt to exaggerate the spaces in Chelsea’s midfield.
Most of City’s attacking threat came from City’s right through Raheem Sterling in the first half. Kevin De Bruyne playing at the right of the diamond and David Silva playing at the tip would try to overload Alonso and Fabregas, and play sharp passes to get Sterling in behind. This tactic was very evident in the first half. However, Gary Cahill dealt with this well and usually helped his team mates here as you can see from the image below.
Chelsea defended very well in the first half. They set up in a 5-3-2 with Morata and Hazard playing as the outlets for Chelsea. City’s shape was forcing Chelsea’s midfielders to play with big gaps between them. From the image below, you can see how far Kante, Bakayako and Fabregas are very from each other. These gaps were troublesome for Chelsea and ultimately led to City’s goal.
Chelsea’s back five were solid and showed Conte has good options here with Rudiger and Christensen. Azpilicueta came in for Moses but I think Conte would have done this regardless of the Champions League game during the week. Azplilicueta is a more natural defender than Moses and Conte needed a solid back five to deal with Sane and Sterling.
However, it was a lack of width when attacking from Chelsea that prevented them creating many chances in the first half. Chelsea, when they were in possession, used Kante as they usually would use Pedro or Willian. This was probably because Conte has so much confidence in Kante’s ability to transition faster than Bakayoko or Fabregas. Kante forced Delph to mark him in a left back position as you can see from the image below. Sané was pressing Rudiger and when Chelsea were able to play out, it was Kante and Azpilicueta who were in the best position to attack for Chelsea. This didn’t happen enough in the first half, but, this can be attributed to City’s dominance and Azplilicueta being more accustomed to playing as a centre back.
City played most of the first half with the ball but the times they were forced to defend were interesting. City defended in a 4-2-3-1/3-3-3-1. City defended with their back three. However, as outlined above Delph was constantly forced to defend in a left back position. This meant a readjustment to a 4-2-3-1. When City lost the ball, they looked to press very quickly to win the ball back, as you would expect a Guardiola team to do. An example of City’s defensive shape can be seen below.
The game changed in the second half due to Conte’s change of approach. Now that Morata was off, Conte used Willian to create a midfield four without the ball. He demanded his players to press higher and faster. Fabregas was now pressing Fernandinho. Azplilicueta and Alonso were given the role of pressing KDB and Delph when they went wide. This increased the tempo of the game. It was a very strong test of City’s qualities on the ball and Chelsea’s ability to get more from their press.
However, it was City’s quality that shone through. Chelsea were beginning to play in a higher block. Bakayoko, in this instance, pressed Walker. Bakayoko then failed to return to his line of defence quickly enough, something that Conte would be furious about. Otamendi played an excellent pass in between Bakayoko and Fabregas to Kevin De Bruyne. He linked with Gabriel Jesus and went on to hit a superb shot past Courtois. City’s constant ability to stretch Chelsea’s midfield finally paid dividends. Below is an image of Bakayoko’s positioning just before the goal.
Credit goes to Conte, he demanded his team to play at a higher tempo even though they had a tough game during the week. It was Conte’s team who suffered from his bravery and they eventually came away with nothing from the game.
Chelsea were also unfortunate, as they looked to get Batshuyai on just before City’s goal. Conte knew that Hazard wouldn’t last ninety minutes so he resisted in bringing Batshuyai on when Morata came off. From around ten minutes into the second, half Chelsea had no real out ball. Hazard was not able to get into positions that Morata or Batshuyai would have been more comfortable in and as a result he became very isolated very quickly.
Conte asked questions of City, especially in the second half. However, it was City’s quality on the ball and Guardiola’s set up that proved why they have been so good this season. When Chelsea pressed in the second half, it freed space in between the lines for City. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva are two of the best players in the league in these positons. They were moving the ball very dangerously and if they didn’t score when they did, they probably would have gone on to score at some point in the game.
This game was a highly tactical affair and one in which both managers proved their worth. Guardiola’s tactical set up of his midfielders to create such big holes in his opposition’s midfield ultimately created City’s goal. However, it was Conte’s change that brought the game to City. Although City were the better team, Chelsea definitely could have held on for a draw. Conte will rue missing Matic as it was Bakayoko indiscipline that ultimately cracked for Chelsea.
MOTM – Kevin De Bruyne was the most dangerous player. Christensen and Rudiger looked like good alternatives to Azpilicueta and Luiz.
Things to note – The forced substitution of Morata really hurt Chelsea.
City’s system is full of small intricacies. Some of the interesting things to note were Kyle Walker’s positioning when City were in possession in the first half. As per the first image in the piece, Walker did not open up as a third centre back when City had the ball. He drifted into midfield on a number of occasions in order to try and hold Chelsea’s midfield players.
Another thing to note was the use of KDB and Fabian Delph when Sane and Sterling swapped wings. When the wingers are inverted KDB and Delph are required to start wider for City when they build possession providing more width. These small things are probably what make Guardiola’s teams very hard to play against, as it forces them to constantly adapt throughout the game.
Written by Neal Hickey (@nealhickey64)