Chelsea put together a cool, calm, and complete performance to win 2-1 against Manchester City on Wednesday night.
Chelsea starting with a bit of a different lineup against City, with César Azpilicueta replacing Victor Moses as the right wing and Kurt Zouma coming in to play alongside Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Fielding a team with a new player in the back three felt a bit odd, but the move was a welcome one. A healthy John Terry sat idly by as Zouma took a spot that he surely thought he could make his own given the chance.
The wing back change came after the weekend loss to Crystal Palace that saw Pedro exposed defensively. This change allowed the Spanish international to move back to his preferred position of right winger. Chelsea’s attack thrived with Pedro back at his old position. Hazard and Pedro were able to play brilliantly off of each other, helping to push City back in the first half. This culminated in Chelsea’s first goal only nine minutes in when Pedro combined beautifully with Azpilicueta to setup Hazard’s strike.
The Chelsea attack then became stagnant for a period and they were harassed by City again and again. This eventually resulted in a goal from a Thibaut Courtois miscue. His errant pass ended up at the feet of David Silva who laid it off perfectly for none other than Kun Aguero.
In that moment, the narrative of the fixture changed. All of a sudden Chelsea were on the run and in danger of conceding another goal. But this Chelsea team is made of sterner stuff than that. They immediately went on the front foot and continued to expose City’s “right-back” Jesus Navas, eventually winning a penalty after Pedro was tripped by Fernandinho inside the area.
Hazard stepped up to the spot, where he had missed two out of his last five penalties, to try and give Chelsea the lead. He proceeded to have his penalty saved but as any quick footed winger would do, he scurried in to slot home the follow-up.
The first half was exhilarating; with three goals, the game felt open and boisterous. The second half was more of a slugfest, surprisingly. Chelsea made a change at the half, putting on Nemanja Matic in place of Kurt Zouma. This restored Azpilicueta to his usual spot in the back three and gave Chelsea’s defense a more solid look.
At first, the substitution also seemed to invigorate Chelsea’s attack, but after a good start, the Blues looked a bit more tentative going forward. The team instead concentrated on stopping City’s attack, withstanding a flurry of set pieces for a much needed victory.
At the final whistle, the Chelsea victory suddenly felt as if it had been a certainty the entire game. The worries from the first half that extended into the second half now felt foolish. Chelsea played a strong, controlled, and competent game of football and the result never felt out of their hands. The back line was great, Kante was a madman, and Pedro and Hazard were electric. The only minor negatives were Courtois’s mistake and Diego Costa’s absence — if anyone finds him, please let us know.
Chelsea fought hard and executed Conte’s game plan well enough to deservedly beat Manchester City for the second time this season. City may have had 61 per cent of the possession, but Chelsea knew how to bend but not break. It was a master class performance from the Blues, confirming a seven-point lead over Spurs, who left it late against Swansea City but still managed to collect all three points as well.
Eight games to go!
Chelsea's "magic number" (any combination of points won by CFC or dropped by Spurs) to clinch title is now down to just 18.— Jake Cohen (@JakeFCohen) April 5, 2017
= very close.