Chelsea vs Manchester City: Exactly what happened
Chelsea hosted Manchester City at Stamford Bridge this weekend in what was expected to be a cracking match. When proper and successful disciples of two ancient and separate philosophies collide, it always garners attention. This was the matchup between the two prodigal sons of Italian tactics and Dutch artistry. The modern matchup between the Catenaccio and total football; both famous and successful ideologies in their own right; although many people would rightly point out that Conte is not as much a follower of Helenio Herrera’s Catenaccio as Pep is a direct descendent of Johan Cruyff’s ideas.
Conte opted for a skewered 3-5-2 which he applied so successfully to outmuscle and outwit Diego Simeone’s famed Atletico Madrid just a few days earlier in UCL. From the start, Chelsea opted for low block, ready to soak up pressure and catch City on counters, using the speed and trickery of Hazard and Morata. Azpulicueta was chosen at RWB to cater to the danger of Sane. Bakayoko was sitting deep and Fabregas was playing near him and Kante a bit higher in more of a box to box role. Conte hoped that Bakayoko would provide safety to the back three and together with Kante just in front, would shield Fabregas from pressure. It was very akin to Conte’s midfiled at Juventus where Vidal and Marchisio shielded Pirlo to allow him pull the strings. Fabregas was to be the glue to initiate attacks and release Alonso, Hazard and Morata behind the lines of City defense.
Pep Guardiola on paper opted for a 4-1-4-1 , but it was a much versatile and fluid formation with Delph acting as left back, but tucking in to form an auxilary midfielder to support Fernandinho, or the CBs and Kyle walker staying wide for overlap runs. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva were the prime creators with license to roam between the lines. Gabriel Jesus was the focal point while Sane and Sterling switching and swapping flanks, coming into the box from wide or going wide during overlap runs with the FBs, playing one-twos with Silva and De Bruyne and constantly supporting Gabriel Jesus with low crosses, passes, options and constantly pestering Chelsea defense. It was a very fluid 3-4-2-1/4-1-4-1/3-1-4-2 with loose variants based on positioning. Pep knew Chelsea would sit back, hence he deployed a high press from the start to pin chelsea back in their own half, breaking up chelsea attacks by pressing and hounding Fabregas and Hazard for space, stopping counters by positional pressing and attacking via half spaces. They played a much higher line and battered Chelsea via their attacks through half spaces at the end of match. As good as Chelsea’s defense was, their organisation left the half spaces unprotected and City pushed Chelsea narrow.
The begining was frantic, with both sides running, pushing and creating half chances. However as time went on, City started to stamp their authority on the match. Chelsea’s defense played very well, but their attacking output was not as potent and their wingbacks were ineffective. However, they were patient and waiting and initially, Morata was causing some issues with his nimbleness and speed. But injury to Morata and introduction of Willian completely killed Chelsea. Not only did Chelsea lose their focal point, Willian was hugely ineffective, devoid of speed and was, as he usually is, dribbling and horrendous in passing and possession. This completely broke down Chelsea’s structure, rendered Fabregas completely ineffective without any outlet, made Hazard isolated and ineffective at No 9, and as a result City battered Chelsea in second half. The 1-0 scoreline did not properly reflect City’s domination.
However, things are not bad for Chelsea. One single defeat against one of the best EPL sides is not improbable. Any manager can make wrong choices on any given day and Morata subbing off perhaps saved him from a bigger injury. The health of Morata and Hazard is imperative for Chelsea’s play and results. Since it seems that Conte does not trust Batshuayi, perhaps purchasing a reliable backup striker who can play focal point in such conditions in January can help to avoid similar situations in the future. Chelsea might have been outwitted and outplayed, but they still are a very strong side and are still poised to pose serious challenges for EPL and UCL. Make no mistake about that.
By Arindam Chakraborty