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Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Another game, another comeback

City attack wide areas

City’s main focus with the ball in the final third was to progress on the right. De Bruyne moved over to the wing, to make passes or crosses into the box, while Silva’s inside positioning and Navas high on the last line would cause problems for Cahill and Alonso. In addition, Aguero was making excellent movements behind David Luiz. With a starting position to the right of Luiz he would make arched movements behind him to move to the left of him, before making a run behind for the pass.

Silva’s positioning was important in these situations throughout the match. When Cahill remained inside to mark him (moving up slightly) it opened the possibility for City to use the space behind Alonso. When Cahill moved wide Silva was a free option inside, while the rest of the backline would move across to try to control the situation.

When City were building from deep, Chelsea pressed high. Chelsea were able to prevent most central passes from these positions, while the most successful solutions City used were to play long and behind the Chelsea defence—Aguero running behind. They also found space behind Chelsea’s backline when countering from deep, or when they won the second ball after playing long. Aguero’s movements in these situations could change in order to open space for midfield runners. By moving towards the ball (and away from the last line) he would be followed by Luiz. He also used this movement when the ball was played long from a goal kick on the left, where Luiz followed him again, before getting the ball and running at the backline.

When City would build from midfield, they used the wide central defenders to draw Chelsea’s wide players away from their midfield line slightly, in order to create space behind them (ahead of the wing-backs). This was most common on the right, where they created good chances for De Bruyne to play the ball into the box from deep positions, along with short passes to Silva joining the box on the inside.

Long switches from the left to Navas were another setup for De Bruyne to collect the second ball, where Navas would lay-off the ball back to De Bruyne to play a second post cross/pass into the box. Aguero and Silva were in position to attack the ball, on the far side, while Sane and Gundogan joined the box for the second ball.

As a consequence of their positions with the ball, City were able to apply aggressive pressure (on the right) when the ball was lost. Alonso was often put into bad situations while receiving the ball, where his passes were blocked or he was unable to hold the ball. Further means were taken to control Hazard on this side, where he was followed throughout the match by Otamendi, while Fernandinho could be used to double up on him.

Aguero was also involved in possession on the left, receiving the ball to feet, after Kolarov would draw the Chelsea wide player forward. In the opened space (like against Tottenham) Aguero was able to receive, turn, and have a long shot, while Sane dribbling inside from the left also caused some problems. Prior to Willian’s goal, Gundogan made good use of these situations to dribble the ball into the box.

Another area from the Tottenham game that City also exploited to create a good chance was to use Silva to move into the space behind Kante when he was pressing. Upon receiving Silva would quickly turn and play a pass behind Chelsea’s backline for Aguero.

Anytime Silva had the ball facing play and behind Chelsea’s midfield line during the match he would make a pass behind the defence. In the second half he found himself in a similar situation to the image above, but on the right, and found a pass behind to Aguero again, while he also found passes behind for De Bruyne in the same position.

Chelsea defensively

Chelsea showed clear intentions early on in the match to press higher up the field, especially in wide areas, as well as maintaining a high defensive line.

Their press would move up on passes to the wide central defenders, while Costa would block the pass back inside. The near side central midfielder would move up to mark City’s central midfielder, while the other would position himself to be able to intercept forward passes (to Silva), as well as organise the players ahead of him (Cesc pointing Hazard towards Fernandinho).

When City passed the ball back from the right, using Bravo, Kante would move over to mark Fernandinho (allowing Cesc to remain in a deeper position) before moving back to Gundogan upon a forward pass.

When City played passes behind the Chelsea defence in the first half, Azpilicueta was able to read the situations well and cover. He was also quick to react to Aguero throughout the match. When the ball was lost in a deep position in the second half, he managed to quickly recover to prevent Aguero having an 1v1 with Courtois without any pressure on the ball; when Aguero made runs from behind Luiz (inside and outside the box) he matched his runs; and when Aguero moved further towards the far-post (for the Moses clearance in the box) he communicated to Moses to make sure he was alert to Aguero. While Azpilicueta was covering far-post movements, Luiz was consistently clearing the ball from the near-post throughout the match.

One area where City were able to get the ball inside the box was the second ball around the penalty spot after a cross. Kante was able to quickly react to take the ball from Gundogan in one of these situations, while Aguero’s shot after Sane’s lay-off was blocked.

Chelsea also dealt effectively with City’s short corners. Hazard, Pedro, Cesc and Kante were quick to close down the ball around the box—preventing City from getting the ball into the box. On the corner shown below, Cesc is pressing wide. But when Gundogan was on the edge of the box during corners after this, Cesc would into Pedro’s position (to mark Gundogan), while Pedro would take over the duty of pressing wide.

Chelsea with the ball

From short building, Chelsea were able to create two different situations in order to play long from deep areas. First, when they were able to draw City to press high, they would play long and high passes for the front players to compete for in the air—pushing City’s backline towards their own goal. With the two central midfielders deep (and City’s central midfielders following them) Chelsea were able to create space ahead of City’s backline to win the second ball.

When Chelsea were able to find Cesc out of pressure with the ball, he could find immediate depth through his long passes. Hazard and Costa both made runs from between Navas and Otamendi to take advantage of these situations.

Further building from deep or midfield used the wing-backs. Since City matched Chelsea’s formation with their own wing-backs in this game, the situations that Chelsea’s wing-backs are used to (where they receive the ball free and in space to move into) were prevented. One example of this was when Chelsea were able to hold the ball under pressure from a deep throw-in on the left, before switching the ball out to Moses on the left. With Sane in a deep position to cover him, City were able to maintain cover and prevent Moses breaking forward quickly.

This saw often led to a different use for the wing-backs in possession from deep, encouraging long first-time passes. Here is an example of one pass that Moses was able to make, which creates a temporary 4v4 against the backline.

Along with the long diagonal passes, Moses could also dribble inside, first-time, from these situations, which lead to the (missed) chance for Costa in the second half. Once again, Chelsea made use of the distances and positioning of each line to open the space centrally, where Moses was able to receive the ball (from wide) between the City backline and central midfielders before moving into the open space.

While Moses wasn’t able to create his usual amount of shooting opportunities when receiving the ball in the final third, he he was able to deliver some crosses into the box. From the other side, Alonso joins the box on this occasion to compete for the ball.

Alonso was used both for long balls from the back, as well as long diagonals wide when Cesc or Luiz had the ball in midfield—creating 1v1s against Navas. Upon winning the ball in these situations, Alonso could cross the ball into the box, with lofted far-post crosses as opposed to the usual low and powerful crosses. Like Moses, Alonso attempted long passes forward—but with greater City pressure on this side most of them were blocked.

City were also able to pick up the ball centrally during their high pressing, but most of these situations didn’t lead to them creating a good chance. Silva won the ball in a dangerous situation from Azpilicueta in the first half, for example, but his pass to Aguero was won by Luiz. Fernandinho showed his anticipation to intercept the pass to Cesc in another dangerous situation for Chelsea defensively.

When Hazard and Costa were able to receive the ball in the final third, they were able to combine and create some good situations, but were unable to capitalise on them. Hazard was easily able to dribble with the ball past Otamendi (Fernandinho would cover his position as he stepped out of the backline) while Costa’s movements to the left opened some space centrally for Hazard to either combine or dribble into.


Chelsea started the game well with some good long play, but for the remainder of the first half, City were able to establish good control of the game. The second half saw the game become more open and stretched than in the first half, where both City and Chelsea were able to create good chances to score.

While City’s switch to a back five allowed them to sustain cover of Chelsea’s wide switches and prevent the typical 5v4 situations that Chelsea thus create, the downside was that centrally it led to City having no spare player against the front 3—previous Chelsea opponents used a narrow back four instead, allowing for a spare player centrally and space for the wing-backs. During the counters in the second half, Costa was able to take advantage of this lack of cover, where he would move the ball from the line of City pressure, hold the ball up, draw players into him and open space in wide areas to play the ball into—such as on Chelsea’s second goal from Willian.

Despite creating good chances, City’s poor finishing ultimately lead to Chelsea taking the lead. City continued to create some good chances with the ball when chasing the game, but Chelsea’s threat of scoring from another counter was eventually taken.

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