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Chelsea 0-0 (3-4 p/k) Manchester City, League Cup: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Sarri’s Plan B

First half

Chelsea adjusted their strategy from the 6-0 defeat to Manchester City, electing to defend from midfield rather than trying to maintain a high position and press, and applying pressure on forward passes rather than the defenders on the ball, to recover the ball and counter from deep, exploiting the spaces behind City’s backline.

City remained patient with the ball and moved it side-to-side to try to find an opening, while waiting for Chelsea to drop back deeper into their own half to be able to reach creation areas facing play with the ball — longer forward passes to feet were pressured immediately by Chelsea, forcing the ball back. However, when City did reach these creation areas, they were only able to find space and play quickly between lines on a couple of occasions. Chelsea defended the wings in numbers (wide central midfielders and wingers supporting the fullbacks), preventing 1v1 situations and runs behind the backline for passes into the box — instead City were restricted to far post crosses from deep positions.

However, at the same time, Chelsea couldn’t exploit the spaces left behind City’s backline when they recovered the ball as City were in close positions to the ball and pressed aggressively and in numbers, forcing the player with the ball to dribble out of pressure and/or try to win free kicks. Since only Hazard, Willian and Kanté (on a few occasions) were capable of doing that, the ball would often just go back to City to maintain their high position and possession.

With possession, Chelsea would play long into midfield rather than build short and face City’s high press. And while they weren’t able to beat the press constantly in this way, they were able to move up the pitch by winning free kicks or throw ins.

When Chelsea finally did play short through pressure at the end of the half, with City’s pressing not as intense or tight, they got the ball behind City’s backline on the wing, allowing Hazard to use his individual talent to compete with Laporte to win the ball and create a shooting opportunity for himself.

Second half

In the second half, Chelsea maintained their position in midfield with more consistency, City lost quality on the ball with Kompany replacing Laporte, and the game became increasingly transitional and then stretched as well.

With the game becoming more transitional, City couldn’t take up the positions they had in the first half to be able to press immediately upon losing the ball (to prevent counters) and Chelsea were more open when they regained the ball to be in positions to keep the ball or counter attack. Then, with the game stretched in the final stages of the half, City couldn’t press Chelsea’s buildup with intensity either, allowing Chelsea to begin playing with the ball from their own half. Hazard had a few opportunities by running behind on the left to counter directly, while also being free in the final third to move and create chances. At the same time, City were unable to control Kanté’s movements forward to support, join the box, run behind City’s backline, and receive long passes over the top and start attacks.

City adjusted formation, flipping the midfield triangle by bringing on Sane, where Gundogan and Fernandinho played as two deep midfielders, Bernardo Silva played higher up off Aguero, and Sterling and Sane were on the wings. This would continue in extra time with Danilo replacing Fernandinho.

Towards the end of the half, Chelsea began to push up higher with momentum on their side, pressing City with good success to recover the ball in midfield and continue their possession and attacks. Meanwhile, opportunities to counter at speed now opened up for City, where Chelsea had to use fouls to prevent them from going on to create chances.

Extra time

Chelsea continued to keep possession by playing short and could now progress consistently forward with the ball from deep, but City could do the same as well as Chelsea didn’t maintain the intensity of their pressing.

Higuaín replacing Willian allowed Hazard to become more influential from a deeper position, overloading on the wing with Hudson-Odoi, and collecting the ball from the midfielders to face play with the ball. But for much of extra time, neither team created any chances despite bringing the ball into the final third, which would see the game go to penalties to be decided.

Conclusion

Chelsea adjusted their approach with success in this game. Their deep defending prevented City from creating chances and it also meant that they didn’t use up all of their energy pressing high like they had in the previous game. In the second half Chelsea became more aggressive and intense, pushing higher up, building with possession from deep and playing through City’s pressure to build their own momentum. Kanté’s movement caused City problems defensively and Hazard was free to create chances for himself and also exploit the spaces left behind City’s backline. However, both sides had a similar amount of chances to score and neither were able to find the breakthrough, leaving the game to be settled by penalties.