It’s been a while since Chelsea looked inferior to an opponent, especially at home, but that was the sad case today as Manchester City came out of the Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge as the superior team in every aspect of the game, including, most crucially, the 1-0 scoreline that keeps them top of the league. Chelsea meanwhile get to spend at least the next two weeks behind Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place.
Antonio Conte once again opted for the 3-5-2 shape following its recent successes on big occasions at Wembley, Madrid and elsewhere, with one major tweak that put César Azpilicueta at right wing-back to counter the advances of Leroy Mané. City meanwhile were in their standard look, a hybird 4-1-4-1/3-2-4-1 shape that saw Fabian Delph deputising as left back/midfielder in place of Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus getting the start instead of Sergio Agüero and his broken rib.
But from the first few minutes of the game, it was clear that Chelsea were in for a tough time and that Conte may have made a mistake with his tactics. And that’s despite Álvaro Morata missing a great chance to open the scoring less than 3 minutes into the match. City were already hounding the Blues, who had no answer for the constant pressure from Guardiola's men.
After a frantic opening few minutes, City were able to grab a hold of the game, keep possession while staying on the front foot and looking to break down the hosts. David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne had license to roam and feed balls for Sané and Raheem Sterling to attack with their speed, both of whom tried to supply Jesus with low crosses and passes into the box. Luckily those were mostly deflected by the young striker, or eventually met by the bodies of a Blues defender.
But while Chelsea defended well — good work by the defensive line of Antonio Rüdiger, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill, capably aided by Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso on the wings — City were hardly threatened. The vast acres of space behind Walker and Delph, for example, went as unexplored as the far side of the Moon.
When Chelsea did manage a few forays forward, most of them ended in failure through unforced errors and turnovers. Be it wrong passes or offsides — five recorded just in the first half — we only made City goalkeeper (sweeper, mostly) Ederson work with a scramble in the box that ended with two badly taken shots at their goal.
Things only got worse when Morata, who had been starved of service, asked to be substituted just past the half-hour mark due to what was later revealed as a hamstring issue. Given Chelsea’s impotence without a center forward on the pitch today, hopefully this will not turn into a long-term injury. Already questioned for his starting lineup and tactical setup, Conte then made yet another head-scratching decision by introducing Willian instead of the more direct Pedro, or, Morata’s actual back-up in Michy Batshuayi. The young Belgian striker looked as mystified on the bench as the fans watching the game unravel.
Quickly after his entrance, Willian would sum up his own and the team’s performance by hitting the towering one-man wall made by the 5ft 7in Raheem Sterling on a free kick. Courtois then saved a point-blank header from Fernandinho on a corner as Chelsea staggered into the break.
There were no changes in personnel or attitudes after the break, and Manchester City grew increasingly more dangerous with each successive attacking wave. Playing with four attacking midfielders sounds like a dangerous plan on paper, but Chelsea were doing little to discourage the visitors from doing their happy dance in the final third, waiting and probing for an opportunity.
They eventually got their reward as Chelsea failed to stay close to De Bruyne as he shimmied through the middle, played a 1-2 with Gabriel Jesus, and unleashed an unstoppable effort past former teammate Thibaut Courtois.
Having done practically nothing in the preceding 70 minutes, Chelsea tried to find desperation mode, throwing themselves forward to get back into the game. But our uncoordinated attempts were quickly batted away by the visitors who have conceded just two goals so far this season. Pedro, on finally in place of Hazard, squandered Chelsea’s best hope by back-heeling a pass to absolutely nobody. Chelsea were in a more sensible 3-4-3 setup now as Batshuayi also made his belated appearance (the ineffective Fabregas making way), and while the late changes looked promising at first, all newcomers eventually joined in on the collective disappearing act from Chelsea.
Martin Atkinson eventually put us out of our misery with the final blow of his whistle.
xG map for Chelsea - Man City. Chelsea defended *really* well, but aside from a few set plays, defending was pretty much all they did. pic.twitter.com/FeE8WEIk3y— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) September 30, 2017
It was only three days ago that Chelsea showed the world the foundations of a Champions League contender by dominating Atlético Madrid in Madrid with a cohesive, and amazing team performance. One bad performance from tired players against a better team in top form will not dismantle all that work, or the progress made by Conte’s Chelsea over the last few months.
We may have lost an important battle, but we have not lost the war. There are many other games like this left to fight this season.
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