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

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Breaking down Chelsea’s brave, but ultimately unsuccessful day against Manchester City

First half

Chelsea made a good start to the game, keeping ball against City’s attempts to press high and creating opportunities to break through them and quickly move into the final third.

From the right, Chelsea would open up through Willian and Kanté, using the pair’s mobility to carry the ball into spaces and run behind in the moments where they worked the ball through City’s high pressing. From these situations they could then switch to the left in the final third, setting up two good opportunities for Emerson.

From the left, Kovačić would remain deep to combine with Jorginho (drawing pressure towards them), which would create the space ahead for Pulisic to move inside and Emerson to advance high on the wing. It was one of the many successful combinations between Kovačić and Jorginho that lead to the setup for the first goal, with Kovačić finding Kanté’s run behind after breaking through City’s line with a Jorginho one-two. Kovačić, as he’s often done this season, was also able to create other opportunities by driving past players with the ball.

Despite Chelsea’s good start to the game, which continued even after the opening goal, City came back into the game when defending from midfield, where they could push up to intercept forward passes centrally and recover the ball in dangerous positions to counter. From these situations, City would quickly respond to going behind and score two goals to go into halftime with the lead.

Second half

City pushed their backline up higher when defending in midfield during the second half, which allowed them to hold their lines in midfield (4-4-2, David Silva up top with Agüero, De Bruyne dropping back). They let Chelsea have the ball along their own backline inside their own half, and invited long passes behind or wide (very aggressive to intercept passes to feet of attackers). As a consequence, Chelsea had a much more difficult time creating through possession, in the same way as they had during the first half (unable to draw pressure onto Kovačić and Jorginho, for example).

Foden brought on a lot more energy to press than Silva had, but this would actually work against City in certain respects. By pushing Chelsea back and moving forward as a team, City allowed Chelsea the opportunities and the space to break through them again like in the first half — Kovačić going past or getting the ball behind Foden in midfield, forcing De Bruyne to step up and open space behind for Pulisic. City’s backline would be forced to drop back to compensate.

City would also adjust to Chelsea’s changes. For example, Sterling followed Azpilicueta’s move to left back, switching wings with Mahrez, in order to maintain his significant speed advantage, while moving the more technical winger to provide young Reece James with different problems defensively.

The benefit of City’s high backline was most noticeable during the final stages of the game, where they caught Batshuayi offside a number of times to stop Chelsea possessions and regain the ball. In doing so, Chelsea wasted a lot of time building with the ball before losing it when they reached the frontline, and were unable to find a second goal to draw the game level.

Manchester City vs. Chelsea: xG Timing Chart
Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea made a good start to the game and took the lead during their best moment of the match. However, as Chelsea continued to keep possession during this period, City were able to recover the ball by dropping back to midfield and playing on the front foot from their backline, which would result in dangerous counter attacks and two quick goals to take the lead. City’s backline pushed up to defend high in midfield during the second half, and Chelsea had a much more difficult time drawing pressure and playing through their lines against this setup — while the more direct approach would often see them lose the ball and unable to find solutions.