When Jose Mourinho starts coming up with his quotable quotes, and the controversy pot is being stirred, you know you’re getting to the business end of the season. As we come closer to the end of the season, and the point where medals are distributed, the heavyweights all need to raise their game. Stamford Bridge was the scene of the battle between the league leaders, and the chasers-in-chief, Manchester City.
The animosity between the two sides is quite apparent, given the rewards at stake. Pellegrini and Mourinho too, haven’t been shy of going at it in the past, with clashes between the duo dating back to their days in Spain. The two teams came into the clash in a charged atmosphere, thanks to the off field incidents involving a certain Diego Costa.
CHELSEA 1-1 MANCHESTER CITY
Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic; Zouma; Terry; Azpilicueta; Ramires; Matic; Willian; Oscar; Hazard; Remy.
Manchester City: Hart; Sagna; Kompany; Demichellis; Clichy; Fernando; Fernandinho; Jesus Navas; Silva; Milner; Aguero.
Substitutions: 80′ Drogba (Willian), 87′ Cahill (Remy), 90+1′ Loftus-Cheek (Oscar) // 77′ Lampard (Fernando), 84′ Dzeko (Aguero), 90′ Jovetic (Silva)
Chelsea defending high when attacking
Chelsea came into the weekend not wanting to lose the game, and consequently, ground in the title race. 5 points was the gap at the start, a rather large gap, and Mourinho was happy enough to keep it that way. Which is why you saw Chelsea playing in fits and starts, especially in midfield and going forward. While City seemed quite light on their feet, and had a fair bit of zip to their passing, Chelsea lacked this possibly due to their midweek excursions, or the absence of Cesc Fabregas in their side.
However, there were times when Chelsea did look to get on the front foot, and one of the tell tale signs of the change in their approach was their defending, and the positions that they occupied when City had the ball. The start of the game saw this sort of play from the home side, with the front 4 in particular looking to dispossess City high up the pitch. This approach worked well, with Chelsea creating some chances after City slipped up. The one that sticks out was the opportunity they got after Remy pounced on Kompany’s error to set up Oscar for what was eventually a tame shot on target.
While they did this well for period of the first half, it really fell away in the second half, as Chelsea felt the Capital One Cup semi final coming back to haunt them. As both Matic and Zouma admitted after the match, fatigue played a role. Chelsea did try to resurrect this pressing towards the end of the second half, but simply didn’t have the same drive or energy against a well organised and well drilled City team.
Azpilicueta facing the heat
One of the most underrated players in the Premier League would have to be Cesar Azpilicueta. The man is very solid, assured, and well capable of doing an excellent job on either flank. His efforts have been appreciated by Mourinho several times in the past, and he is well loved by the Chelsea faithful, and not without reason. However, there are limitations to playing a right footer at left back, and City exposed and exploited these weaknesses well at the Bridge.
Pitted against an old fashioned chalk on the boots winger, Azpilicueta struggled to keep Jesus Navas quiet for large periods of the game. The main reason for this wasn’t poor positioning, but Azpilicueta’s natural weakness on his left side. As Navas tended to go on the outside of the Spaniard, it made him play on his weaker foot. This simply wasn’t good enough to stop the winger, as he got a lot of joy on that side. City too, were well aware of this, and fed Jesus Navas. The fact that the most common pass in the game was Sagna to Navas is telling. City’s goal too, came from a teasing Navas delivery that left Courtois stranded. All in all, 43% of their attacks went down the right flank, which is a pretty big number.
This was a big game for Navas, what with his consistent inconsistency leading up to this match, and the former Sevilla man will feel like he has proved his point.
Differing use of width by both sides
Both the teams were looking to use the width of the pitch, and exploit it to their advantage in this game. As mentioned above, City were especially keen on the right side of the field, channeling a lot of their attacks through Jesus Navas. Even Milner, on the left, often got high and wide to occupy Branislav Ivanovic, though he cut inside with a lot more frequency.
Chelsea on the other hand used the width a little differently. They were looking to overload one side of the pitch, and then attack the vulnerable side with a quick switch of play. More often than not, this was a ploy to get Hazard into a one v one position with a defender. The goal also came from such a piece of play, with Hazard ghosting in behind Sagna after a diagonal chip from Ivanovic.
When defending, there is such a thing as over-economy, i.e. committing too many men to defence. That is exactly what has happened here, as City virtually have a 5 vs 3 situation on their left flank. So much so that Sagna, their right back, is near the middle of the penalty area. While this easily shuts down the immediate threat, it leaves the opposite flank vulnerable, and Hazard takes advantage of this weakness to set up Remy.
This a tactic that we have seen from Chelsea before in the season. Most notably, the second goal at Anfield, where Azpilicueta set up Diego Costa after a similar build up.
Where does that leave them?
Essentially, it leaves them where they started. 5 points is still the gap, and both sides will settle for the result. On the basis of the game, City might feel they could’ve won it, given the way Chelsea crumbled in the second half, but one feels that Pellegrini would take the point and walk away if he was made the offer before the game.
For Chelsea, it was clear that Mourinho was happy with a point. Being the pragmatist that he is, he was never going to go chasing the win as 5 points is a healthy lead, and he will be on his toes against the lesser sides. In the big games though, he likes to, and will always keep it tight. He really does consider these games 6 pointers.
Written by Vishal Patel