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Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

City with the ball

City had a high amount of possession, being very patient with the ball, waiting for openings, and always having the safety option of back passes when under pressure and unable to find a pass into a player in space.

City’s best opportunities came through a set piece, counters after winning ball from high pressing, long passes behind Chelsea’s backline, and finding space between the lines when Chelsea attempted to press high through Moses.

Many of City’s attacks were on the left, where Sane has a speed advantage over every opponent in the league. He can cause problems going on the outside, cutting inside and running behind Chelsea’s defence from the inside, usually after switching positions with Silva. When carrying the ball inside diagonally his close control and acceleration created one opportunity inside the box, but Chelsea were able to block the shots. His runs behind from the middle, along with Aguero, created more chances against Chelsea’s closed block, where City could play passes behind Chelsea’s defence from inside Chelsea’s half.

De Bruyne could join Silva and Sane on the left to overload, drop deep for the ball in midfield, and play early passes into the box. Aguero also moved to the left to support possession and to maintain the ball, while also looking to make runs into the box off the back of shoulder of defenders for early crosses and passes.

In support, the fullbacks were both narrow and acted as central midfielders, which allowed them to comfortably circulate the ball, maintain a numerical advantage, attempt to provoke Chelsea to press higher up, and be in positions to press and recover the ball if Chelsea won the ball and attempted to counter—since Willian and Pedro were deep, counters would often require one of the front three to dribble with the ball initially to allow for support to go beyond them.

While sitting deep and maintaining a closed block, waiting for a mistake or an opportunity to intercept the ball, Chelsea didn’t suffer too many problems considering City’s vast amount of offensive talent, but problems would arise when they attempted to push higher up in midfield and open up on the right for Moses to press high. Any time Chelsea tried to press, City would find a spare man, Silva inside or a pass back to Gundogan, which would see City instantly open Chelsea’s midfield line and begin a dangerous attack at Chelsea’s backline. Attacking on the left initially, they could also isolate Bernardo Silva against Alonso through quick passes on the other flank, where he could take advantage of his exceptional quick-shot after moving inside onto his left foot.

Chelsea with the ball

Like against Barcelona, Chelsea accepted having low amounts of possession, and once again went for the defensive stability of Pedro and Willian as the wide players dropping back from the front three without the ball, moving Hazard to play as striker. This move, as with the other options, has its positives and negatives, but Chelsea’s extreme lack of possession saw them suffer more than in the Barcelona game.

A reason for City’s high amount of possession (higher than Barcelona) was thanks to their more effective pressing of Chelsea’s building and deep possession.

Chelsea looked to build short through Courtois taking quick goal kicks and passing wide to Rudiger or Azpilicueta. City began their pressure by matching Chelsea’s backline 3v3, with the near-side fullback pushing up towards Chelsea’s near-side wing-back, Silva covering Fabregas, De Bruyne moving between a deep position when Chelsea played on the right and high on Drinkwater during building from the left, Gundogan a free man ahead of the backline, and the remaining back three maintaining a high defensive line on the halfway line to play offside at the limit—leaving Chelsea’s far-side wingback free, but unreachable.

Passes out to Rudiger and Azpilicueta would see them pressured from the outside by Sane or Bernardo Silva, in order to block the pass to the wing-back, which would put them into a dilemma. A pass back to Courtois would see him receiving under pressure, a pass into one of the central midfielders would either be under pressure or intercepted, and ground passes to the frontline were too great to reach without the risk of them being intercepted. In addition to the lack of options, the pressing saw Chelsea’s backline playing without the composure needed to play through pressure.

As a consequence, Chelsea would play a number of long passes to the frontline in the air, where they were unable to get behind City’s defence or win the ball in the air to start attacks—from where City could sustain their high amounts of possession from midfield.

In open play, City’s pressure would again force Chelsea into mistakes and passes back to Courtois. City’s wide forwards joined De Bruyne, Silva, and Aguero in pressuring Chelsea’s central midfielders, restricting their space and time to face forward with the ball and play forward passes. Their back passes would again lead to long passes forward to the frontline.

Where Chelsea found some success was through counters, long diagonal passes to Alonso, and finding the spare man towards the end of the first half to begin attacks.

During counters, attacking on the one side before switching to the other would allow their wing-back to find space and time to advance with the ball, before looking to play passes behind for Willian or Pedro running behind on the inside. However, they often made errors when attempting to play the final pass.

Diagonals to Alonso opened up the inside and the possibility to get behind Walker or find switches to Moses. Alonso was able to win the ball most of the time against Walker in the air, while the rest of City’s backline moved over to match Chelsea’s front three. The header inside to Pedro and Hazard saw some inconsistency at keeping the ball, but when they did they could create. Pedro on the ball behind Walker would allow him to carry the ball at Otamendi, before passing the ball for Hazard running behind—but, again, without the right weight on the ball to make the pass successful. Switches to Moses would again present good chances both on the outside or for Willian on the inside, but again couldn’t create through the final ball—as well as good clearances inside the box from City’s defenders.

Towards the end of the first half, City were unable to press with the same collective intensity, which allowed Chelsea to break pressure and create opportunities to play forward for the front three. The frontline could create opportunities through dribbling with the ball, Fabregas was able to find space and time on the ball facing play to attempt passes behind City’s defence, and Chelsea continued to play switches to the wing-backs. Chelsea moved into some good positions, but were again unable to shoot from the opportunities they created.

Second half

City capitalised upon a mistake by Chelsea in order to take the early lead in the second half which then allowed them to hold possession, wait for Chelsea to press, and waste time with the ball. Aguero made the same run behind Chelsea’s defence as in the first half to receive a pass from midfield, recovering the loose ball from the failed clearance. He found Silva in close support joining the box, and after getting behind Chelsea’s backline, crossing across the face a goal, which Bernardo Silva finished off after getting behind Alonso.

Chelsea had some better moments with the ball after the goal, where they broke City’s pressure and found forward passes to the frontline, but would lose the ball as they attempted to combine first-time. On one successful occasion they found Moses joining the box for a shot, after Alonso won the ball in the air and they switched the ball after winning the second ball—similar to the situations in the first half.

Counters would have the same result, where they would play forward early before losing the ball as it reached the frontline. Chelsea then had no reaction to press high in moments and instead went back to their defensive block to look to win the ball deep for another counter, and not risking opening up and giving City the opportunity to break through their pressure and create.

Chelsea were first to change later on in the half, with Giroud replacing Willian and Hazard moving to the right. This change instantly saw Chelsea create a chance, where they played short from Courtois, through pressure, and Azpilicueta found Hazard dropping for the ball, where he could dribble inside, before finding Pedro behind City’s midfield line—only for Pedro to misplace his pass to Alonso on the outside.

Giroud began pressing from the front, and the attitude of the team changed to playing more aggressively and higher up. Through their pressing, Chelsea won the ball high and created some opportunities, while City could no longer press Chelsea’s possession at the back.

City made changes to find their high pressing through Jesus, as well as bringing Danilo on for Zinchenko, since Hazard was now playing on the right and Zinchenko was on a yellow card, but Chelsea now had the composure and momentum to beat City’s attempts to press in the middle. Emerson and Morata replaced Pedro and Hazard, which gave Chelsea runners for second balls from Giroud, but Chelsea’s shift in momentum came too late in the game to create enough chances to score.


City’s high positioning, possession, and pressing ensured that Chelsea had few opportunities to get forward with the ball to create chances. They were patient with the ball and waited for Chelsea to make mistakes before quickly taking advantage, which would see them take the lead early in the second half. Chelsea were also patient defensively, and had to play in moments at the end of each half when City were unable to maintain the same intensity while pressing, but simple mistakes cost them when they had good opportunities to create, before running out of time.

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