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Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down another Chelsea loss

First half

Chelsea started the game with high and aggressive pressing through the middle, where the front three and midfielders had to play with a lot of intensity and cover the distances quickly in order to sustain the pressure.

City lost the ball a few times trying to keep it to break pressure and when trying to play forward (Zouma up close to De Bruyne to win ball), and this gave Chelsea the opportunities to try to create quickly from a high position or start with the ball in the final third to break City down.

City were also pressing high, but from much closer distances at the front. De Bruyne would drop onto Kanté and the wingers would play between the central defenders and fullbacks on the outsides. This allowed them to close down on the inside quickly and try to force Chelsea to either play risky passes through the middle or turn back on the ball and go backwards. The long distances to close for City in these moments were to Chelsea’s fullbacks, who were in spaces and were Chelsea’s route to break pressure. City would compensate for these spaces by the wide central midfielders shifting over to pressure or the fullbacks, having to push up high to close the spaces.

By pressing in such a way, City caused problems for Chelsea’s buildup. Chelsea generally play forward from the fullbacks or dropping wide central midfielders (moving up on the wings). Without being able to easily find the wings, Chelsea had to play through tight spaces in the middle, which isn’t their most suitable quality, especially given the lack of back-to-goal qualities of the players playing up front.

Chelsea v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

After the initial period of good pressure, Chelsea’s second problem came when they were unable to sustain such high pressure and the spaces began to appear for City to play through. Without pressure on the ball high up, Zouma wasn’t able to follow De Bruyne when he dropped for the ball (leaving him in space to receive and play behind) and Chelsea would get pushed back to defend deep inside their own half, where they are weak.

As we’ve seen for weeks now, when having to defend deep, Chelsea have been leaving spaces ahead of the backline. Against a team with fluid attackers Chelsea were thus in a nightmare position: De Bruyne moving from the defenders to midfield and the left, Foden staying on the outside as width on the left (unless rotated), Sterling playing on the inside of Chilwell and Bernardo Silva free to move and find open space. City exposed Chelsea’s problems and created a number of chances to score. They scored two in quick succession, soon after Chelsea’s pressing dropped, and took control of the game.

As we’ve also seen, Chelsea also couldn’t recover the ball to launch counters while stuck in a deep defending position, leaving City to hold the ball in midfield comfortably, create chances and press high when they lost possession inside Chelsea’s half.

When Chelsea did get the ball and were able to get into the final third, City would be in a deep and compact block from the middle, maintaining close distances to the ball, the options around it, and anticipating the next pass to intercept or close down quickly. Werner doesn’t offer a lot as striker without spaces to attack, and so Chelsea were left with Zieych playing aggressive crosses into the box, crosses from the fullbacks, or the chance that Pulisic dribbles through to create a chance for himself.

City would further extend their lead before halftime after pushing out quickly from a defensive set piece to win the ball and counter, where Chelsea had committed most of the team forward (leaving only Kanté back) in an attempt to score from the ball into the box. City would continue to create chances before halftime, but they would go into the break only three goals ahead.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City xG timing chart

Second half

The second half saw no changes. City continued to press the same, showing Chelsea through the middle and recovering the ball high, where they had a number of opportunities to extend their lead. City would also find the same spaces to play through Chelsea from midfield to move into the final third and again create chances to score, while Chelsea struggled to recover the ball deep and play out of their own half.

When Chelsea did make changes later in the half, they had a positive impact on the game. Gilmour added his technical qualities to playing through the middle when under pressure, Havertz attacked the spaces behind City’s backline to setup Chelsea’s late goal, and Hudson-Odoi had the qualities to hold and carry the ball forward, recover it to start counters, and to score Chelsea’s only goal of the game.


Chelsea had a good opening ten minutes when they were using a lot of energy to press high up and close down spaces. Without being able to score from these moments, the intensity of the pressing dropping off was inevitable and the consistent problems Chelsea have had this season were exposed. City had a lot of chances in the first half, and with Chelsea coming out to play the same in the second half the chances would only continue — without being taken. Chelsea’s late changes made a positive impact on the game, with qualities they needed from the start, but the game was already over, and City’s margin of victory could’ve been far more substantial.

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