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Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

City made Chelsea look downright pedestrian in an easier win than the score would indicate.

Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Can someone go wake up Ederson? I’m pretty sure he’s still asleep on his goal at the stadium. I’m just being cheeky obviously, but Ederson probably could have dozed off for most of this game and nothing would have come of it considering he only faced 3 shots all game, none of which were on target.

Manchester City were dominant in this game despite the final score not reflecting it. Pep Guardiola’s team beat West Br-, oops I mean Chelsea, 1-0 at the Etihad to strengthen their grip on the league title.

For a team of Chelsea’s stature, they approached this game as if they were some relegation team with no world-class players of their own. It was somewhat expected from Chelsea to play conservatively but they really went above and beyond, enough to make what was an exciting matchup going in not very fun at all. Antonio Conte played a 5-man backline with a midfield four and Eden Hazard alone up top. Chelsea’s attack is often heavily predicated on the wing-backs getting forward and providing width, but that was not the case against City.

Chelsea applied almost no pressure on the ball whatsoever and invited City to control possession deep into their defensive third. Conte seemed to want to keep his wing-backs in line with his center-backs and drag the City attack into the corners, where the buildup would bog down as Chelsea closed down on the touchlines. However, Pep Guardiola and his men were well aware of Conte’s intentions and had plans of their own.


Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Blues of Manchester often got the ball deep into the corners but often recycled the attack back out to midfield. City were patient in their buildup and moved the ball well until a Chelsea defender abandoned his position. You could see City’s wide players consciously moving the ball out even when crossing opportunities may have been available.

Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko pinched into midfield and established an area further outside the box to chip away at the Chelsea defense. When a member of the backline did step forward and try to win the ball, City would pounce and attack aggressively.

Manchester City were able to create a number of chances from their quick passing and intelligent movement, but Chelsea were successful in preventing keeper Thibaut Courtois from being in any clear 1-on-1 situations. When Chelsea were able to get the ball from City’s kung-fu grip on possession, they often lost it rather fast. City’s press was ruthlessly effective and forced Chelsea to boot the ball up the pitch time and time again, but the visitors often lost the ball before even getting the chance to go long.

Chelsea’s structure hindered their ability to counter attack because their wing-backs were always caught too deep in their own half. Because of this, Chelsea couldn’t break out with any semblance of width and mostly were forced through the center. But since Pep was able to advance his full-backs into the midfield, City were always able to outnumber Chelsea in transition and step forward to intercept outlet passes.

Interestingly, the lone goal of the game was not the result of a great team build up, but from a ball lobbed forward to Sergio Agüero from Ilkay Gundogan. Agüero drew two of Chelsea’s defenders and a terrible clearance by Andreas Christensen gave the Argentinian a chance to control the ball and he found David Silva streak toward the end line. Silva’s cross made it through the box cleanly and Bernardo Silva was on the other side of it to put it away.

Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Antonio Rüdiger actually floated toward the center of the box instead of protecting the post for this goal, something he had been doing all game to prevent cutbacks. Marcos Alonso was responsible for filling in the space across the line, but he turned off for just a second. His mental lapse left Bernardo in too much space and Alonso wasn’t unable to recover in time.

With City in the lead, you would think Conte would get more aggressive and look to equalize considering they need to pick up results to finish in a Champions League position. But nope, Chelsea played the exact same boring, conservative way for the majority of the second half until desperation kicked in for the last ten minutes. Eden Hazard does have the pace and skill to create chances on his own, but City put Chelsea in a position where they had to make the perfect pass to get anywhere and they were clearly unable to do so.

Real quick shout-out to Leroy Sané, who didn’t factor in on the goal but is absolutely in the zone right now. He’s out there making guys look foolish regularly and created a number of chances just from his individual skill.

Just four more and this team will be Premier League champs! What a team!