No one can claim that they did not warn us. All week, they said it would be ugly. A certain loss. No chances for a good result, and so forth.
And unfortunately for us, consensus was duly right for the first time in a long while, as Manchester City handed a 1-0 defeat to a Chelsea side that lacked grit — and a proper plan — at the Etihad today.
”God help us all” is what most (religious) fans probably thought when they saw the starting lineup without the presence of midfielder N’Golo Kanté from the bout due to illness. This massive gap was attempted to be filled by Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fàbregas, the latter a very suspicious player when it comes to covering spaces in midfield compared to Kanté.
Changes were also made in the attacking front. Álvaro Morata’s bad form since his return to the fold from a back injury and the prospect of facing a team similar to Barcelona in playing style had manager Antonio Conte picking Eden Hazard as a false-nine, probably in hopes of reproducing the good form that had us almost beating the Catalans at the Bridge last month. With that, both Morata and his back-up Olivier Giroud were left on our bench as options to take the pitch further ahead.
As for the hosts, City boss Pep Guardiola made only two changes from the side that beat Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates last Thursday. Those took place at defence, with centre back Vincent Kompany and left back Danilo replaced by winter signing Aymeric Laporte and youngster Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Upfront, they were almost at full strength. Midfielder Ilkay Gündogan functioned as a very offensive counterpart to Fernandinho, who was absent from the meeting due to a hamstring injury. And ahead of him, a stellar group with David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sané, Sergio Agüero and Bernardo Silva ready and eager to wreak havoc on our poor souls.
On the coin flip, Chelsea earned rights to kickoff the game. They however were only able to retain the ball for a few seconds, as City started on the highest of intensities to take things to their favour from the get go at the Etihad.
The Citizens were almighty in pressing Chelsea’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and his backline, whose only resort was punting forward. Those however were almost always caught by City players or the sidelines, which ended on the same result: gifting the hosts possession of the ball, and not doing much to win it back.
Moving forward, City showed why they are considered one of the Premier League’s best sides in history not yet clinching the competition’s trophy. With Chelsea entrenched in a 5-4-1 due to their opponent’s dominating form, the home side were masters at occupying the pockets of space left between the lines and infiltrating them with quick and short passes between one another, all of which helped by clutch switches to the flanks.
Those breaks combined with the interchange of positions between midfielders De Bruyne and Silva, along with the work of Sané down our right flank, had Chelsea constantly menaced by runs infiltrating the box. Luckily for us City were not at their best when it came to finishing, as they ended the half with 8 shots attempted to Chelsea’s zero, but only one on target.
Speaking of which, their sole shot on goal at the half came by Sané who was the game’s best player at that point. Thankfully, his powerful shot after receiving the ball on a free kick in our box was cleared off the line by standing captain César Azpilicueta, whose reflexes were better than Courtois’ at the moment of his intervention.
César Azpilicueta is, as usual, in the right place at the right time as he blocks a shot off the line to keep the match scoreless. 0-0. #CFC pic.twitter.com/QguK2Ds2x9— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) March 4, 2018
Despite City’s numerous attempts and success in infiltrating the fortress at defence in the first few minutes of the half, Chelsea were able to keep the scoreline intact with loads of work done by the defence to keep City at the wings and far of central areas to find proper scoring chances. Although this was almost undone by a bad combination between our midfielders within our box nearly 15 minutes into the game, Chelsea stood strong in face of the barrage of attacks and high pressing from City’s offensive front and midfield.
And since City’s players are not (yet) robots, they went into the natural path of tiredness. An expected development, given how Pep’s small first-team squad have them rotating very little in games week in and out.
This had City diminishing their intensity, starting with the attackers no longer pressing as keen as they once were and their lines dropping back as well. As such, Chelsea started to find some ways forward.
Before that, the Blues had already tried to find ways to City’s defensive third with those long passes that were almost always met by a player donning a baby blue attire. This much thanks to the host’s work in keeping Willian and Pedro on defensive duty constantly, flanking the central midfielders while Eden remained as the only Chelsea man ahead of the line of the ball.
But then Chelsea started to find their path, especially on our right flank where Zinchenko — who could have been sent off early in the half for a criminal tackle on his right side counterpart Victor Moses — could be exploited.
'we must protect the players' pic.twitter.com/UKKtA5BAdM— amadí (@amadoit__) March 4, 2018
However these opportunities were few and far between, and mostly wasted by the lack of support to any Chelsea man who dared breaking our formation to carry the ball forward.
That was the major difference between City and Chelsea in the first half, and maybe throughout the season. On the ball, City had a clear plan and even their “free flowing” ways had a pattern to follow, not leaving them as exposed as it would if their team lacked quality. Meanwhile Chelsea were just completely lost in the few occassions they had possession. It looked as if they had grown so used to endlessly defending and saving their lifes in bad games that they had no idea what to do when getting forward. A worrying sight.
In any case the first half still ended with Chelsea maintaining the 0-0 scoreline, with City only finding the back of the net in an offside goal by Otamendi. Great for us!
Chelsea had done the best they could not to give City the lead at the first minutes of first half. But with less than a minute into the second one, all of their work was torn to shreds.
It was yet another individual mistake by Andreas Christensen at a big game that had City taking the lead. Out of a pass from Gündogan heading into Agüero’s direction, Christensen made a baffling attempt at clearing the ball that only made the Argentinian’s job at dominating the ball a tad easier. He played the ball forward for a marauding Silva infiltrating the box on our left, with the Spaniard putting on a neat cross for Portuguese winter Silva finish the chance and open the scoreline.
Having (finally) gotten their score, City were allowed to take their foot off the pedal and “relax”. Surely their way of relaxing was by relieving their attackers from pressing duties on the centre of the pitch, but still dominating possession and the flow of the game with their offensive moves. But it was still a drop in all the potency they had shown at first half.
Naturally, Chelsea began to take more hold of the game. And City’s diminishing in intensity almost had them pay the price from the get-go, with Moses finding himself free to score near the penalty box at minute 54 in what was our best chance in the entire 90-minute affair. However, the Nigerian’s attempt veered wide from the target.
Moses’ close shave got City back into the game, although they were still not playing at the highest of their tempo. Even then, they were finding it quite easy to keep the ball to themselves and slice open Chelsea’s defence, instead of following the usual path of letting the team with the less possession find the better chances to score in the few times they touched the ball.
Much of Chelsea’s wastefulness was down to our final pass. With Willian becoming anonymous in the second half, Pedro went to the rescue by taking the ball-carrying duties of the Brazilian onto his back. But the Spaniard was just awful on his attempts to find the few players who got to follow him on moves towards City’s goal, having his attempts either blocked or going straight onto the feet of one of our opponents.
Changes felt as if they had to be made just after City’s goal. Instead, Conte only made his first substitution 78 minutes into the game by taking off Willian for Giroud, whose presence already had City kept in check.
Later on, Emerson and Morata took charge in place of Pedro and Eden, respectively. And with City panting and pleading the referee to end the game, Chelsea got another two close shaves with attempts from Giroud and Alonso.
But close shaves they were, and those are not good enough for goals. 1-0 to City, and Chelsea stay five points behind the top four in the Premier League table.
902 - Manchester City today completed more passes than any other team has managed in a single Premier League game (since 2003-04). Distributed.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 4, 2018
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