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Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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A pressing game of two halves as Chelsea beat the league leaders

First half

The game began with City using a similar long kickoff up the flank as Chelsea have used this season, winning a throw-in and using that as the starting position. Chelsea immediately pushed up as City passed the ball back to midfield. City then played long and pressed the ball — with a high stating position and close distances to the Chelsea players — and didn’t allow Chelsea to take control of the ball or break their pressure, resulting in Chelsea having to play long.

This was the general pattern for the opening stages of the half. City would have the high position through their possession, and would press high immediately if they did lose it. On other side, Chelsea’s distances were generally too great to press the ball collectively, and when they did have the ball, they either couldn’t break through City’s pressing or, in the few moments where they did, they would misplace the ball upon passing it forward (twice Pedro to Hazard passes were misplaced).

The latter was also a factor that contributed towards Chelsea not gaining the high position or being able to close the distances in order to press the ball. Without keeping the ball for long enough, Chelsea were unable to move up collectively and City had no problem maintaining the ball at the back in deep positions to start and restart attacks. If Chelsea had attempted to press at that point, they would’ve likely just wasted energy and potentially opened up space for City to advance into.

City’s short goal kicks offered Chelsea a rare platform from which they could start with close distances and a high press, but the very first time Chelsea tried this, City ended up creating a good chance for Sterling. While Chelsea did manage to force Delph into playing the ball long into midfield, City won the loose ball and attacked quickly in numbers (Chelsea stretched from pressing high) to create the chance in the box. City played the half with a high amount of composure and confidence to take the extra touch to keep the ball, which gave them control of the match.

Chelsea may have had their issues in pressing, but in defending, they did not. City had Mahrez and Sterling switching positions between right wing and striker, but they didn’t create many opportunities from their possession. Quick one-twos between the advanced midfielders and the wingers were most successful in getting behind Chelsea’s backline to create 1-v-1 situations, but Azpilicueta maintained good control of Sané on the left, and from the right, Sterling created just the one chance for Sané inside the box (blocked by Azpilicueta). City’s best chances in the first half came from winning the ball in midfield or higher and countering in numbers, or from set pieces. Otherwise, Chelsea’s deep defending remained strong and resolute.

Early on, Chelsea’s main way of getting out of their own half was to try to play long or win free kicks. Hazard would position himself on Fernandinho in order to have the opportunity to win the ball in the air if it was played long, or to be able to hold him off with his back to goal. When Hazard was able to receive the ball to feet, he could hold the ball against City’s pressure, dribble past opponents and draw fouls. Long balls behind City’s defence were attempted by David Luiz oftena and early, but were unsuccessful until the pass where he found Pedro high and wide, starting the move that resulted in Chelsea taking the lead.

This was a crucial moment where the game changed. Chelsea took control of possession and position, while City’s pressing began to have problems with greater distances to pressure the ball and cover the options, less intensity from the players applying pressure, and becoming stretched as a team as Chelsea played through them successfully.

Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City xG Timing Chart
Understat

Second half

The second began as the first ended, with Chelsea growing in confidence and composure and able to keep the ball and play through City’s attempts to press, while City couldn’t maintain the distances or intensity through their pressing as they had in the first — and in the moments where they tried to press with intensity, Chelsea broke through and created opportunities in the final third (but failing to take advantage of them).

As the half wore on, Chelsea, with a lead to hold, began defending around their own box, holding a deeper position as a team and not pressing high with numbers. This gave City more shots from outside the box and possession on the flanks — providing them with a number of corners as Chelsea continued to block their attempts to pass into the box. City’s corners actually provided Chelsea with more opportunities to counter than in the first half (more corners and City moving fullbacks higher or inside, leaving the wings), with Hazard making good runs behind and Kanté’s speed when carrying the ball causing City problems, while their improved possession continued to cause City problems as well.

After successfully defending against a number of City corners and attacks, Chelsea won their first corner of the match and scored a crucial second goal, after which they could defend deep in numbers, hold on to the ball successfully, create a few more chances, and see the game out.

Conclusion

City had control of the first half and created good chances when winning the ball high up and from set pieces, but couldn’t take advantage of any of them. Chelsea’s goal late in the first-half turned the game around, as Chelsea took control and began to play through City’s pressing. Chelsea had chances early on in the second half as they continued to play through City’s pressing, then reverted to defending deep with a lead to maintain. City won a lot of corners as they attempted to break down Chelsea’s deep block, but, as in the first half, Chelsea kept them out before scoring a second towards the end of the second half to secure the win.