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

Breaking down Chelsea’s huge win over Pep Guardiola’s rampant side

First half

The first half saw City with a lot of possession ahead of Chelsea’s defensive block, but with slow circulation speed and not finding ways to expose Chelsea’s backline to create chances. Chelsea, on the other hand, seemed unconfident with buildup play from the back against City’s pressure, but were able to create fast and dangerous attacks from counters.

Chelsea set up their block from midfield, where they held off pressing very aggressively high up the field. In doing so they would wait for City to play forward before pushing up to pressure the ball as a team, while maintaining close distances to the backline. The workrate of the midfielders and frontline was crucial for providing continuous protection to the backline (City rarely able to get in positions facing Chelsea’s backline with the ball) and to slow City’s attacks down—both in wide areas and between lines. Chelsea’s energy ensured they could double up to prevent isolated defending, and reduce the influence of City’s most important players in the game.

From midfield, Chelsea would then look to profit from errors or win the ball back from pushing up, before counter attacking at speed. The midfield selection gave the best qualities for being able to cover the ground both offensively and defensively, with both Mason Mount and Ross Barkley able to make runs behind City’s backline in transition. With Willian and Christian Pulisic running behind in addition to the midfielders, Olivier Giroud’s target man qualities were a good balance to play off — as well as his ability from set pieces. Chelsea managed to close down the ball as a team and put City under pressure on a number of occasions, however, City’s ball retention under pressure is ridiculous and they often held on to the ball and forced Chelsea pressure to drop off.

When building from the back, Chelsea had problems against City’s pressure from the midfielders and closing down the spaces from wide areas to reduce the number of options for the player on the ball. City maintained a high backline and close defensive block, while also being ready to control the second balls when Chelsea opted to play long to Giroud. Chelsea’s mistakes at the back could have cost them an early goal, but in the moments where they played through City’s pressure with confidence, they managed to break through and quickly create opportunities in the final third.

Pulisic capitalising upon a City mistake at the back would see the winger score a solo goal to make the decisive difference in the first half.

Second half

City dominated the opening stages of the second half, where Chelsea couldn’t win the ball nor hold on to it to move out of their own half. City would move their attacks closer to Chelsea’s goal and recover the ball higher up from Chelsea’s attempts to play out, which would see them winning a free kick from which De Bruyne leveled the score. Sterling had an opportunity to give City the lead shortly after through a quick counter, but failed to take advantage of the situation. Meanwhile, David Silva joining the game provided City with greater creativity to stretch Chelsea on the left with his runs behind, while Gabriel Jesus gave them a more direct approach to find earlier passes behind Chelsea’s backline.

As the half went on, the game became much more open and this suited Chelsea’s attacks much more, where they were aggressively breaking from midfield (runners continuing to get behind City’s backline, as well as Abraham on for Giroud) while when City got the ball they would choose to slow the game down again.

Chelsea had the better opportunities to take the lead, and after some great recovery clearances and blocks off the line, City would give away a penalty, receive a red card, and fall behind in the game. The red card for Fernandinho was particularly bad timing for City since they had brought on Otamendi for Laporte and already taken Rodri off, and their reshuffle would be to move Walker inside and Sterling back to right back. Chelsea had chances to go on to extend their lead in the game, but the one goal advantage would be enough for three points.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City xG timing chart


Chelsea’s protection of their backline and counters from midfield during the first half minimised City’s opportunities to create, slowed their possession down in the final third (often pushing them back) and allowed for the fast attacks to be occurring when Chelsea had the ball. Mistakes at the back provided both sides opportunities, but it would be Chelsea who capitalised upon one to take the lead before halftime. City made a better start to the second half, keeping Chelsea back in their own half and going on to equalise, before missing another chance to take the lead. After that Chelsea would have the best chances to score, before Fernandinho got sent off and conceded a penalty that would allow Willian to score and give Chelsea the win.

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