There are a few games in a season that see teams that are very evenly matched in every aspect, and in the Premier League this year, the two best teams are probably Manchester City and Chelsea. So, when the duo met at the Etihad, it was always going to be a heavyweight clash, with Pellegrini and Mourinho renewing their rivalry. The fact that these two teams are also near the top of the league table only added spice to the fixture.
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta; Kompany; Nastasic; Kolarov; Jesus Navas; Toure; Demichelis; Silva; Dzeko; Negredo (Jovetic, 57).
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic; Cahill; Terry; Azpilicueta; D. Luiz; Matic; Ramires; Willian (Mikel, 90); Hazard (Ba, 90); Eto’o (Oscar, 83).
City’s Asymmetrical Formation
Generally, most teams line up in a symmetrical pattern, and it’s quite uncommon to see a team play in an asymmetrical manner. City however, play with a 4-4-2, and the fact that there are only 2 in the middle of the park leaves them vulnerable here. In order to overcome this, Pellegrini has sacrificed symmetry. Silva on the left always drifts into the middle ahead of the midfield duo, and Kolarov is left to dominate the left wing, with Navas stretching opponents wide by sticking to the right touch line. This allows them to dominate the middle of the park where they have large numbers with 2 strikers a midfielder drifting in, and 2 in midfield. As Silva drifts in, it drags the wide midfielder that’s tracking him (Ramires tonight) along with him, leaving a large tract of grass ahead of Kolarov. Kolarov often uses this space to fire crosses into the box and hurt opponents. On the right, Navas is a traditional winger who plays down the touchline and is well supported by Pablo Zabaleta. This duo often ensures that City are quite dominant on this flank as well.
This dominance ensures that City often force their opponents into the middle that they tend to dominate with the skill of their players, and have men over in the wide areas, leaving ample opportunities to cross the ball. This was visible against Chelsea as the Pensioners were forced into defending narrow, but the brick wall that the Chelsea players formed meant that City had to go wide. They attempted to cross the ball 40 times over the course of this game, succeeding only 10 times. That is huge credit to Chelsea and the way they defended.
City bursting into the spaces between full backs and centre-backs
As stated above, City managed to gain a stranglehold in the wide areas, and were able to use this part of the field as a source to build their attacks. City tried a few crosses, a lot of cut backs, but another tactic utilised was breaking into the spaces between the full backs and the centre backs. City love to play with cut backs, and therefore the two midfielders in the Chelsea pivot were placed a little higher than the defensive line to stop these cut backs. This left a space behind these midfielders where the likes of Yaya Toure could run in and attack. City tried to move into this space very often, and it did bring them their best results. Toure came close with a shot from here, and Zabaleta managed to set up a very good chance for his team mates when he got into this area of the field. They were probably a bit unlucky to have not scored at all after some of the chances that they created, but that’s something they’ll have to live with.
In the image above, you can see Zabaleta (0n the ball) set to play Toure in as he runs from deep into the area that’s been encircled. The two defensive midfielders that Chelsea use are a little higher than the defensive line and are looking to cut out passes and cut backs, rather than block this space.
Chelsea came into the game to counter attack. In order to effectively do so on a regular basis and use it as an tactic to bring goals, it is important that a team maintain defensive economy. This means that it shouldn’t commit too many players in defensive positions, because it risks a reduction of attacking potency by doing so. Mourinho struck a good balance between having a solid defense, and keeping a few men higher up the pitch to effect a counter attack against City.
As you can see in the image above, City have the ball in their attacking phase, and Chelsea have an adequate number of men defending.The 3 City players in and around the area are marked by 3 Chelsea players, and there isn’t an overcompensation of bodies. This sort of tight organisation resulted in several effective breaks from the away side, leading to 6 shots on target for them, as opposed to just 3 for City.
City midfield leaving too much space
Against most teams, the midfield duo of Toure and Fernandinho have been able to overcome the odds of playing against a man and dominated the middle of the park. Sadly for the Citizens, Fernandinho pulled out because of an injury, and Pellegrini was forced to replace him with Martin Demichelis. With all due respect to the Argentine, he couldn’t really replace Fernandinho effectively enough, and this left a weak spot for Chelsea to exploit in the City midfield.
Demichelis was assigned the role of the defensive midfielder with Toure given the license to break forward. His job therefore was to break down the opposition counter attacks and try and nip them in the bud. Obviously, he didn’t do this well enough, and that’s why Chelsea were able to break away repeatedly and easily. Demichelis was attracted to the ball a little too much and often in the wrong situations. This left his team struggling and often way out of shape at the back. Due to his poor decision making, the back line was either too deep, or too high, with the away side taking advantage of the confusion to find space on either side of the line for their shots.
In the above image, Chelsea are in the middle of a counter attack that leads to a couple of good chances, but Demichelis is nowhere to be seen in the frame. Hazard is left unmarked on the edge of the area and in some space for a shot. Demichelis arrives only a few seconds later.
A game that was very close and very intense saw Chelsea taking home the 3 points and ending City’s perfect home record. It also makes the title race even more interesting, as the two teams that clashed today are now tied on points, and only 2 behind the leaders Arsenal.
Chelsea have every right to be pleased with the performance and the win, as some solid defending was complemented by quick and dangerous counters. City tried hard but unfortunately luck didn’t favour them, and they will have to lick their wounds for now.
Did you notice any tactical aspect of the game we missed? If so, do let us know by leaving a comment below.
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