Chelsea’s semi-successful gameplan against Manchester City, to match the champions at their own game, may have been a bit foolish and a bit naive — we won the possession battle in historic fashion, but lost the game in a distinctly non-historic fashion — but for those involved in it, it was the exact opposite of that.
We could chalk that up to the unbridled enthusiasm of youth, but it wasn’t lost on one of the most veteran members of the squad either, the Captain himself, César Azpilicueta.
“With the way we have been playing recently, with the confidence and the movements from our attacking and midfield players, we have dominated most of the games we have played and created a lot of chances. That’s why we had the confidence that we could match their game.
“We came into the match after six wins in a row in the Premier League, we were ahead of them in the table so as a team we had the ambition to come here and win.”
Confidence can win you a lot of points. But so can individual quality, collective organization, and unwavering concentration. And in those respects, Manchester City showed just why they became the first team in a decade to defend their Premier League title last season.
“We started the game very well but when you play big games like this against quality teams, you know that small details can make the difference. We arrived often in the last 25 or 30 metres but sometimes we were a bit unlucky and sometimes we didn’t make the right choice so we have to improve in that if we want to go further as a team. We know we are still improving and the way to do that is work hard to try to get the wins in these kind of games.”
Winning at the Etihad was never something truly necessary for our Premier League ambitions this season, so it’s an easy one to use as a learning experience.
The same won’t be true for our next game, away to Valencia on Wednesday, which could very well decide our Champions League group stage fate. Win and we’re in the knockout rounds. Lose, and we’re probably not. Any needed improvement from Saturday will have to happen quickly.
One simple change we should make is to deploy Azpilicueta on the left, and give young Reece James the start at right back. This is Chelsea’s most ideal and most balanced full back combination at the moment, and we’ve seen work very well each time it’s been used (Burnley, Ajax, City).
“My characteristic is to play in different positions so I am always ready to help the team wherever the manager thinks that I can do it. [...] It’s just about changing sides, focusing straight away and getting the relationship between the players that I have around me.”
“We have a great chance to close the qualification for the next stage so we have to take the game like a final. We know we play against a good side because they beat us at the Bridge in the first game so our mindset is to go there and try to win.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC
So say we all.