After the El Classico on Saturday night, it was time for the fans to settle in and watch the El Cashico on Sunday. The Blues of Chelsea welcomed the Sky Blues of Manchester City for a league game that was very crucial to both sides. With Arsenal running away at the top of the table, the onus is on the chasing pack to keep winning and keep up the pressure on the leaders. Chelsea managed to do just that today, and will undoubtedly be very pleased to go home with the 3 points.
The home side started out with a familiar line up in a familiar formation. The back 4 consisted of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Cole. In midfield, Lampard and Ramires lined up behind the trio of Hazard, Oscar and Schurrle. Fernando Torres was chosen as the man to lead the line.
Manchester City came into the game with a slight tweak to their team. The back 4 sprung a slight surprise. Zabaleta and Clichy were the two full backs, and Nastasic started at centre back along side the debutant, Martin Demichellis. In midfield, Garcia and Fernandinho were given the holding role, as Toure was pushed further forward. Silva, Nasri and Sergio Aguero were in the front line.
Full Back Behaviour
The four full backs on the field were deployed quite differently by the two managers. While Pellegrini had his moving forward to provide width and create over-laps, Mourinho had his hanging back, and staying in midfield as passing options and defensive cover. Pellegrini needed to do this, because his aim was to add width to the attack, after having Silva and Nasri drifting inside to play through balls between the full backs and link up with Aguero who was in the middle.
Chelsea on the other hand gave their full backs a very different brief. Ivanovic and Cole did get forward, but hardly ever overlapped their midfielders. They were more of the supporting cast. Crosses came from the deep areas via these two players, but they stuck there. The job was more defensive in nature, to close down spaces between themselves and the centre backs. There were a number of occasions where 50-50 balls on the wings were left by the full backs who retreated and left the challenge to the attackers in those positions.
This season, Chelsea have kept their pressure line fairly deep. The inclusion of Terry and Cahill in the starting line up made this a little necessary for the City game, and Chelsea decided to pack the midfield and their own half to cut out the flowing moves that the City front men like to put together. However, this did not mean that there was an absolute lack of pressure on the City back-line. Chelsea were quite happy to press City for the initial few seconds after losing the ball, especially near the City area, but as soon as City gained control of the ball, Chelsea retreated into their positions, and focused on breaking up the City play. Defensively, Chelsea played in a 4-5-1, with Oscar dropping deep into midfield to supplement Lampard and Ramires. This was used as a platform to launch runners who went beyond Torres when Chelsea did recover the ball in their own half .
As for the attack, as mentioned above, Chelsea were looking to get the ball forward to Torres and have runners get beyond him and support him. Doing so meant that runners may drag defenders deep, and create space for Fernando Torres to run into, which he did very happily. Chelsea were basically very pleased to play on the break, let City have the ball and then move into the spaces. At the times that Chelsea did have the ball, the width was restricted to that of the penalty box, as the full backs weren’t encouraged to bomb down the flanks. The attack being narrow, Chelsea players had to attempt dribbles and use some very creative means to break down the City defence. This is why we saw a lot of back-heels and flicks of that sort coming from the home side. Chelsea made 16 dribbles in the game, as opposed to just 9 by City. Of the 16, Ramires and Ivanovic alone made 4.
A well documented weakness of the Chelsea defence is their tendency to concede goals from low and hard cut backs into the box. Over the last couple of seasons, this has been a problem. Manchester United exploited it brutally and brilliantly in their 2-3 win at Stamford Bridge last season. City used the same blue print coming into this game. All the wide players tried to get to the by-line, and the full backs were also over-lapping and attempting cut backs. In the first image above, Zabaleta can be seen attempting one. The difference between that game a year ago, and this one though, was the kind of organisation Chelsea showed in dealing with the threat. The centre backs got deep enough, and the midfielders like Lampard got back into the box to get to the second ball and clear the lines.
Last season, Chelsea were thrashed by City every time the two faced off primarily due to the fact that Yaya Toure was allowed to stamp his authority all over midfield. This time around, Mourinho and Chelsea seemed prepared to take on the big Ivorian. Apart from Oscar dropping deep to add to the numbers in the central areas, Lampard and Ramires were quite prepared to get stuck in and leave a little on Toure. The aggression from the Chelsea players in general was very high. They committed 11 fouls, and made 25 tackles. Though the method was slightly unsavoury, it proved to be effective, with Toure unable to dominate proceedings. Fernandinho and Garcia did well, but the deeper line ensured that many of their chipped passes and through balls were picked up either by Cech, or the defenders, of whom Terry made 3 interceptions.
Long Ball Through The Middle
Over the course of this season, City have struggled when faced with a long pass down the middle. The confusion has been all too evident, and Chelsea set out to exploit this. They played a number of long passes to Fernando Torres, and long passes in general to exploit this weakness. The outfielders except Torres played 34 long balls in all, and the winning goal fittingly came after a long ball caused enough confusion in the City ranks to give Torres an open net to shoot into.
Chelsea may not have looked as dominant as their counterparts, but they stuck to their game plan, and the speed of their attacks was enough to overwhelm City. As for the second goal, it’s not a one off, and Pellegrini will need to work hard in training with Hart and the defenders to ensure that they cope with such threats better. City again dominated ball possession, and made some good moves without really making chances that could be called clear cut. The penetration is another area City will have to do some work in.
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