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Chelsea 0-1 Manchester City, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea unable to deal with City’s pressing, possession, transitions, recovery, high line, and more...

Manchester City with the ball

City’s setup in possession caused Chelsea defensive problems throughout the game. They achieved this through having numerical superiority in the initial two lines of building and pinning Chelsea’s backline back with their wingers, making the changeover (wing-back leaving the winger for the wide central defender) difficult due to the risk of leaving them and the distance being too great to close down in time.

At the base of City’s possession, they kept their fullbacks deep to build, with Delph moving up into central midfield to join Fernandinho, and the backline shifting to the left to create a back three—like Chelsea build when they play 343, using the wide central defenders to move forward with the ball and seek forward passes.

By pinning the wing-backs deep, space was available for De Bruyne and Silva to receive the ball and combine, which was particularly dangerous when both would move to the right to join Sterling. Without the wing-backs being able to push up and switch men with central defenders (so Alonso moving up to press De Bruyne receiving the ball on the right, and Cahill moving out to Sterling) the wide central defenders would get stuck between either staying back and giving City’s creative players the ball in space, or going a long way away from their backline in order to attempt to pressure the ball.

With the overload on the right, Sterling could take on Alonso 1v1 (his mobility advantage a constant threat), where he’d usually carry the ball inside and require Cahill and one of Chelsea’s central midfielders to close him down—accelerating with the ball to attack the box at speed, increasing the chances of winning a foul. Additionally, the three of them could combine to ultimately find De Bruyne in space to play passes and crosses into the box, from wide or on the inside—where Jesus and Sane would attack the ball at the far post.

Similarly, on the left, Silva could combine well with Sane, as well as Delph supporting from behind. Silva, too, could carry the ball into the box to cause problems, using timing, body position and control to get into shooting positions.

Playing ground passes to Gabriel Jesus centrally would allow them to play one touch combinations—he was excellent at receiving with pressure from behind and finding close support, such as on De Bruyne’s eventual winning goal.

Although City were a constant threat, Chelsea were able to prevent them from creating many good chances to score. Good covering from Christensen (and composure to find a pass after recovering the ball), Azpilicueta’s aggression blocking Sane taking the ball past him, and excellent blocks from Alonso, Cahill, and Rudiger were all examples of good (albeit deep) defending in the match.

Chelsea unable to build pressure

Chelsea started quickly and created a couple desirable situations through pressing, such as when City tried to find De Bruyne behind Chelsea’s high pressure on the right, but Fabregas was close enough to Walker to cause him problems and make an error, allowing Alonso to step up and win the ball to start a counter attack.

City’s stability with the ball, however, would be a problem for Chelsea throughout the game. Chelsea weren’t able to maintain their early speed and intensity, and dropping off too much was always going to be dangerous given City’s creativity in the final third. Trying to achieve the balance between holding and trying to pressure the ball is a difficult task, and can easily lead to the players losing composure and opening up space for City to play forward and attack Chelsea’s backline.

Without the platform to press with in midfield, and not being able to press short goal kicks from City (as they would do to Chelsea), Chelsea were limited in how they could disturb City’s possession. Throw-ins were one way, providing Chelsea chances to win the ball and attack quickly. City trying to play to their wingers early from the back was another situation that allowed Chelsea to press and win the ball, but these were, again, rare occasions.

Chelsea made changes in midfield to try to solve their problems, by moving Fabregas into the middle and moving Bakayoko wide. From here Fabregas would try to push up to press Fernandinho when he was receiving the ball with back to play, while Bakayoko could attempt to push up wide and cover the space behind in a more efficient manner, but when Kante and Fabregas were high to press, and Fernandinho was able to turn on the ball, there was a lot of space left behind for City to exploit and create chances.

Chelsea v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Manchester City pressing

Manchester City’s pressing, especially when Chelsea tried to build short from goal kicks, was another key aspect causing Chelsea frustration. Sane and Sterling were responsible for both Chelsea’s wide central defenders and their wing-backs, and did an exceptional job in using their speed to close down the first pass to the central defenders quickly, approaching Cahill and Rudiger from wide to prevent the pass out to the wing-backs.

The way Sterling and Sane pressed the ball was to try to prevent passes from the central defenders to the wing-backs, but, if Chelsea did manage to get the ball out wide, they would quickly turn and recover to press the wing-back from behind. Additionally, Chelsea’s wing-backs would face an unusual situation upon receiving the ball here, since City wouldn’t use their fullbacks to move up to press them—and, as a result, allow them to play their typical around the corner passes to the backline now short one defender. Instead, City’s wing-backs would remain back to not be outnumbered and block forward passes behind on the wings to Kante and Fabregas.

When the two wide men were pressing Cahill and Rudiger, their speed and intensity could force Chelsea to play passes back to Courtois. This happened the first time Chelsea tried to build short from a goal kick, where Jesus quickly closed down the pass back to Courtois, before blocking the attempted clearance. Sane and Sterling were also causing similar problems in open play, pressuring both Rudiger and Cahill (with Alonso) into mistakes and giveaways.

Without the option to go short, Chelsea were forced to play long from the back. They tried to find their usual passes out to Alonso, but Walker was able to match him throughout. Additional long play to Bakayoko against Walker also lacked success, while long and central often didn’t reach the targets—not that Hazard or Willian would have been able to win many headers in these situations, continuing to show the magnitude of the loss that Morata’s injury was.

City’s pressure and cover when they lost the ball in Chelsea half was also impressive. There was a strong reaction around the ball to press in numbers. When City had possession in Chelsea’s half, both nominal wing-backs (Walker and Delph) would move up into central midfield, and would look to stay close to any of Chelsea’s attackers—so they could immediately apply pressure if Chelsea won the ball and played forward. If Chelsea didn’t play forward, then they would drop back quickly in numbers to prevent Chelsea getting overloads and counters. Meanwhile, City’s high defensive line proved adept at catching Chelsea offside on numerous occasions.

Chelsea v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Positive(s) for Chelsea!

A positive from early on in the game was the holdup play, combinations, and dribbling of Hazard and Morata—using their bodies to shield the ball from the opponents and turn past them. Morata’s dribble past Stones was also one of the few occasions when Chelsea were able to get Alonso into a position where he could draw pressure on his first touch (from Walker) and play a first-time pass behind to Morata.

Closing the game

In the second half, when Chelsea finally managed to build some momentum, City responded by making the pitch big and circulating the ball at the back, opening up their shape to break Chelsea’s pressure, before finding the likes of David Silva in spaces behind the press. They then started playing long from free kicks and goal kicks at the end of the game to prevent Chelsea from having a chance to press them with numbers.


Manchester City’s pressing of Chelsea’s goal kicks resulted in Chelsea giving up going short; Walker dealt well with long play to Alonso and Bakayoko, resulting in Chelsea having no clear way of building the game; City’s recovery when they lost the ball prevented Chelsea’s counters from causing any problems.

Furthermore, Manchester City’s possession in their half made it difficult for Chelsea to press them, and when they did, City often had forward options with space to move into. After the goal, and when Chelsea began to build some pressure, City’s managing of the game with possession and long play from Ederson (free kicks and goal kicks) slowed down Chelsea’s momentum and ran the clock down to see out the result.

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