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Siyang Xu provides a detailed analysis on the Premier League match that finished Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City
Antonio Conte became the first manager to do a league double over Pep Guardiola as his Chelsea side overcame arguably the toughest test of their title run-in. Eden Hazard scored a brace to seal a 2-1 victory over Manchester City, although the result could have gone either way in an intriguing game at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester City were able to dominate possession in the first half despite being the visiting side, controlling the ball for 62% of the opening 45 minutes. Chelsea were not too keen to press Guardiola’s side high, and instead preferred to settle in the stability of a low 5-4-1 block. This allowed City to easily develop comfortable possession around the halfway line, with Chelsea happy to sit in a compact shape in their own half and protect central areas closer to their goal.
Chelsea did not look to actively engage the ball until it either penetrated inside their block or moved into a more advanced wide area. Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante did not try to constantly maintain access to press City’s double pivot, largely down to the fact City had a 3vs2 overload centrally with Silva playing as a #10, thus making the blocking of passing lanes to the Spaniard the midfield’s main priority.
As a result, Fernandinho and Fabian Delph were able to consistently get on the ball in space, albeit in an unthreatening area of the pitch. The excessive 4vs1 overload with the two centre backs and two central midfielders against Diego Costa meant that they had too many players sat in a deep position outside Chelsea’s defensive block. Therefore, there were less options further forward to progress the ball, and City ended up with a lot of slow passes between these four players, which of course was no threat to their opponent.
The occasions where City were able to progress the ball and create opportunities in dangerous areas of the pitch were largely down to David Silva connecting play in between the Chelsea lines. One particular passing lane that continuously opened was through the right half space, where Eden Hazard’s lack of defensive work rate regularly left a hole for City to break through. Kevin de Bruyne also made some nice counter movements to facilitate this, for example dropping towards the ball to create more space for Silva to receive in.
De Bruyne also tried to find space in between the lines of this compact Chelsea block, sometimes drifting as far as the left half space, but the distances between Kante, Fabregas and Pedro were usually minimal and could mark him out of the game with their cover shadows.
From this advanced position, Silva could bring the likes of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane into play and create shooting opportunities. Chelsea did manage to recover well, however, when the ball went wide and managed to re-adjust to the new ball position to deny City the space to play back inside through the channels. As a result, City were denied the space to play the threatening low crosses across the face of goal that has resulted in so many goals for Pep Guardiola’s side this season.
A large part of Manchester City’s control over possession was down to their effective pressing and counterpressing, denying Chelsea long spells on the ball. There was particular emphasis in stopping Chelsea from playing back inside after passing out to either wing back.
City would do this by pressing with a narrow shape in order to invite passes out to the outer centre backs or wing backs, more commonly towards Cesar Azpilicueta and Kurt Zouma on the right side. This would enable City to shift over and for Sane to press Zouma whilst approaching at an angle from a central position, forcing the pass to go to the wing back. Gael Clichy would then step up to engage Azpilicueta, with Silva and Delph looking to adjust and cover inside options.
As a result, often the only available option would be for Azpilicueta to return the ball back to Zouma, who would either go long or play back to the goalkeeper. Forcing a play like this was of course how City got their goal, when Thibaut Courtois’s weak clearance fell straight to David Silva.
Chelsea eventually wised-up to this pressing trigger and actively looked to avoid playing to their outer centre backs or wing backs in deep positions when a City player was in close proximity. Courtois also began to hit longer passes instead of playing out at every opportunity as Chelsea tried to minimise risk whilst holding on to their lead.
Despite City dominating much of the game, Chelsea’s two goals, both coming against the run of play, were enough to win the match. Chelsea particularly targeted wide areas, looking to utilise the late run of the wing back to draw City’s full back out with a supporting player nearby to create an overload.
City’s defensive block was generally quite narrow, and in the moment that the full back would step out to press in wide areas, his supporting team mates generally struggled to shuffle over to maintain horizontal compactness. As a result, gaps would open up in the channels for Chelsea to take advantage of, especially with the supporting runs of the near-winger. For example, in the case of Chelsea’s first goal, Pedro’s run through the channel took Delph away from an important area of the pitch, leaving Hazard free to roam in and find space to take a shot at goal, even if the goalkeeping of Willy Caballero on that occasion was questionable.
After assessing that “we were suffering in midfield”, Antonio Conte brought on Nemanja Matic in midfield in a bid to have more control in the second half. Happy to protect their one goal advantage, Chelsea once again focused on maintaining a tight, compact block which reacted with intensity when the ball threatened to penetrate into dangerous areas.
This defensive approach helped Chelsea to control the second half without necessarily having much of possession. City continued to try and penetrate centrally, knowing that it would be difficult to come back inside from wide areas, with Silva and de Bruyne actively looking to connect play in the half spaces. Unfortunately for them, most of their best chances in the second half fell to John Stones, coming from set piece situations, and they struggled to create clear openings in open play against a well-drilled Chelsea unit.
The ex-Juventus coach led his team to produce a very Juventus-like performance, possibly sealing the title in the process, but Manchester City were able to constantly probe and create opportunities to seize a point or even all three. The xG chart below (all credit for it goes to @11tegen11) illustrates how closely City matched Chelsea in terms of chances created and seems to confirm Guardiola’s opinions about City’s performance, where he commented after the game that “in the boxes, they were better than us. In the boxes, we were not good enough.”
For all the control that City exerted over the game, Chelsea’s efficiency in attack means that they were the ones who left with all three points, and possibly with one hand on the Premier League trophy.
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