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Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea quickly respond to defeat against Palace with a victory against City

City with the ball at the back

Manchester City used Caballero in possession to create a numerical advantage to play through pressure and take the ball up to midfield. When Chelsea were pressing them on one side and the ball went back to Caballero, he could find forward passes to one of the free central midfielders, or find one of the spare players on the left—when Pedro pressed inside, the distance was usually too great for Azpilicueta to close down in order to sustain pressure on the ball.

On a couple of occasions Chelsea were able to disturb this short building to either force City to play long or to win the ball high up. During the following situation the ball is played back across City’s box out to Kompany, where he is pressured from Pedro and kicks the ball out as a result.

When City were forced to play long balls from the back to the front players, Chelsea had success through their backline dominating in the air or getting their foot ahead of City’s players backing in to win the ball. Some of the loose ball moments from the second ball were successful for City, if they were able to quickly find the attacking players between lines and directly attack Chelsea’s backline in 3-v-3 situations. Additionally, they created a couple more of these opportunities through counter attacks.

City with the ball in midfield

In midfield, City’s numerical advantage was greater, as Chelsea would wait to try to press them out to the wings from a deeper position rather than push up to press them early. With the central defenders and central midfielders circulating the ball in midfield they mainly had to deal with Costa pressing them from the inside (to force them forward and up the side) along with some support form Chelsea’s midfielders as the distances were closed and pressing was collective.

The moments where City were able to create good chances from their possession in midfield were when Costa wasn’t in a position to pressure them on the ball and they were able play forward passes between the lines. This caused two problems for Chelsea’s midfield line. If the central midfielders tried to move up to pressure the ball they opened more space behind them for passes to City’s forwards (if the passing line wasn’t blocked), while if they maintained a deeper position, City could find a forward pass to Silva, between the lines, where he could immediately turn to face Chelsea’s backline with the ball.

In this situation, City have both central midfielders on the same side with the ball. Chelsea’s central midfielders move up to close them down, opening the passing line to Aguero between the lines. Luiz tries to step forward to anticipate the pass but misses the interception, before Silva passes the ball back to Aguero for a shot.

Chelsea counters

City had problems creating when they couldn’t find passes to the front players centrally. While advancing up the wings, their attempts to play inside were pressed and forced back out by not being allowed to turn and face play with the ball, while attempts of crosses were blocked or cleared. From this circulation of the ball from side to side, Chelsea were able to regain it on a few opportunities to launch dangerous counters.

As City moved wide, Chelsea’s wing-backs could move up to press City’s fullbacks aggressively; when they anticipated the pass correctly, they would create good situations for Hazard in particular. When the ball was won, Hazard was free to make movements up the left, in the space left behind Navas, where he would draw Fernandinho or Stones over to pressure him as he advanced with the ball up the wing.

Additionally, Chelsea could find early progression during counters through central combinations (such as Hazard passing to Cesc, before spinning off Fernandinho to receive the return pass facing City’s backline) and always had the option to switch the ball to the wing-backs when City had numbers around the ball.

As they moved forward and approached the box, Chelsea had options to play crosses to the opposite wing-backs, cross the ball into the box, or, during both early and delayed moments, find passes in and around the box to free players—spaces were open as City’s wingers were late in recovering, while John Stones was often drawn out of position causing constant shuffling in defence and midfield.

Chelsea with the ball

When building with the ball, Chelsea started with passes out to the wide central defenders before they looked to play forward. Passes forward to the wing-backs allowed them to either play inside to the central midfielders (where they could then play forward to the front players) or play a first time diagonal up to Costa. Chelsea were, for the most part, unable to create the normal superiority on the last line through building through, except for when they were able to individually beat their man—such as Pedro going past Delph in the first half. Long play from goal kicks usually had more success at retaining the ball and then looking to attack from midfield.

City’s pattern of high pressing used the wide players on the opposite side to move over to the closest central midfielder, leaving Chelsea’s central defender on the far side free. Upon passes across to the free central defender, City’s winger (Sane or De Bruyne) would leave the central midfielder and quickly move to pressure the receiving player upon their first touch.

Halftime change

At halftime Chelsea brought Matic on for Zouma. This change not only gave them a more solid defensive player centrally, they made further changes through the re-organisation of the rest of their players. By switching Cesc to Pedro’s role, he would maintain a deeper position and not push up as high in his pressing, allowing more central control in deeper areas, while when attacking, the more offensive Pedro (compared with Azpilicueta) could dribble inside from wing-back. Chelsea also defended in a deeper block for the majority of the half, maintaining the backline of 5 and having the midfielders shuffle across to pressure City’s advancing fullbacks from time to time. Hazard was also able to rest a little more off the ball and continue to look for spaces to be able to counter if Chelsea won the ball.

One aspect that Chelsea were weaker in was the marking of Stones at corners (previously done by Zouma) where he was able to win a few headers later on in the game.


Chelsea maintained a strong defensive setup along with good solutions to have outlets for counters (mainly through Hazard) and create chances as they then approached the box. While City began creating some chances through finding players between lines towards the end of the first half, Chelsea quickly made the change in the second half to prevent them from having the same space to exploit between the lines.

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