As Conte mentioned, a problem for teams challenging for the title – City had registered their 10th win of the campaign in 11 matches earlier. The onus now fell on the other challengers to catch up with them and it was none other than Manchester United and Chelsea who faced each other at the Stamford Bridge. With 8 points off the top, Jose Mourinho had to take the game up to Chelsea and even the home team had to do the same after taking just 19 points from 30 points.
Given the teams’ situations, it was expected that there would certainly be a winner at the end of 90 minutes. Conte was questioned about the team’s morale and confidence inside the back room after their 3-0 suffering at the hands of Roma in Italy.
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Chelsea (3-5-2/3-5-1-1) | Manager: Antonio Conte
13.Courtois – 28.Azpilicueta, 27.Christensen, 24.Cahill – 21.Zappacosta, 7.Kante, 4.Fabregas, 14.Bakayoko, 3.Moses – 10.Hazard – 9.Morata
Manchester United (3-4-1-2) | Manager: Jose Mourinho
1.de Gea – 3.Bailly, 12.Smalling, 4.Jones – 25.Valencia, 21.Herrera, 31.Matic, 18.Young – 22.Mkhitaryan – 9.Lukaku, 19.Rashford
Antonio Conte brought in Kante who was finally fit to start a game. The midfield of Chelsea consisted of the Frenchman along with Bakayoko and Fabregas in the central triangle. Courtois started in goal as Azpilicueta, Christensen and Cahill played as the back three. In the wide areas, Zappacosta played as the right wing back while Alonso played as the left wing back. Hazard started in attack and played off the striker, Morata.
For United, David de Gea started in between the sticks with the trio of Bailly, Smalling and Jones ahead of him. Valencia and Young played in the wide areas as Herrera and Matic played in the central midfield just behind Mhkitaryan. In front, Lukaku led the line along with Marcus Rashford.
Manchester United’s early surge
Interestingly for the opening 10 minutes, Jose Mourinho took the game to Chelsea. Mourinho’s team were clearly different from how they have played in their away games against big sides so far this season. During attack, United moved in a 3-5-2 with both the wingers Young and Valencia providing the width. The double pivot Herrera and Matic were close together in many instances. The wingers proved to the vital cog in United’s attack as movements of the ball between the two wings exchanged swiftly.
In the above instance we can see how United quickly moved from one wing on to the other, resulting in a good chance for Rashford. In other situations, both Valencia and Young were involved in direct exchanges which kept Chelsea deep as they marked the numbers in the middle. As both the teams grew into the game, Chelsea started to play better of the two and dominated the game.
Chelsea push forward through Bakayoko:
Just as Manchester United looked to have created a good chance, in the next moments Chelsea had a big chance in the other end.
For Chelsea, the midfield trio of Fabregas, Kante and Bakayoko acted as an inverted triangle in attack as both Bakayoko and Fabregas moved forward while Kante stayed in the defensive half. Often Bakayoko was at the end of a move as he moved from the midfield into the box. As we can see from the image below, Kante often stayed in the defensive half while Bakayoko and Fabregas moved forward.
In this instance below we can see Bakayoko in space between the right back Valencia and Chris Smalling. As Morata has dropped deep, this allows the likes of Bakayoko and Hazard to occupy the space upfront. Here the movements of Morata have attracted Phil Jones who has followed him to the midfield, opening up the space in the centre while Herrera is isolated in midfield.
These movements were seen in many instances of the match as Bakayoko often stepped up into midfield to join attacks upfront.
Chelsea find more space to attack
Manchester United this season have been the most solid and defensively the strongest team in the Premier League having conceded just 4 goals in the campaign thus far. After their 2-1 loss to Huddersfield, they had won three games in three different competitions with no goals conceded. It was thought that Jose would be happy to play very defensively and draw a blank. However Manchester United’s will to go forward and press high told a different story.
United pressed high up the pitch in certain instances and were ready to attack. In turnovers, they were caught in midfield when they left huge spaces for the back three coupled with Herrera to cover up. The wings were quite exposed defensively when both Young and Valencia high up the pitch and were slow to shuttle down in some cases. This was because of Mourinho’s need to play a proper back three instead of a defense which would defend in a back five.
This gave the forwards of Chelsea the much needed space move into. Space occupation was good from Chelsea as Hazard, Fabregas, Morata and the bombarding Bakayoko occupied spaces upfront. More than the occupation of space, much should be said about the ability of players at the back to find these players through lobs and long balls.
In the image below, we can see the space occupied by Fabregas in the centre and he has options of finding Morata upfront of Bakayoko in the wide left.
In other instances, as said earlier the wide players had more space the United wing backs failed to retreat to their zone. The above instance is the case when Ashley young failed to move back during a turnover in attack and suddenly Zappacosta has more space in the wide area with Bakayoko and Morata in the centre.
Chelsea start off as the better team in the second half
In the second half, Chelsea were quite better than they were in the first half themselves. There was an aggression to their game as the ball moved faster like never before in the start of the second half. Chelsea started to find more space and won the midfield battle in the centre as Mkhitaryan often looked isolated in many instances. This helped Chelsea to measure their attack and go for the goal. As said, Chelsea looked very sharp going forward and were quicker. This can be seen from the video below where United happened to have lost the battle in the middle.
The momentum was with Chelsea in the opening ten minutes of the second half and to back that up, they broke the deadlock courtesy of a brilliant Alvaro Morata header. Once again United provided more space in the midfield as they defended deep and this allowed Azpilicueta to carry the ball forward and cross it to Morata. Chelsea did well to create space inside the box for Morata. Bakayoko ran across which attracted Phil Jones while Bailly couldn’t react to the positioning of Morata who settled well in between the two defenders to place the header past de Gea.
As we can see from the above image, the gap between the defenders was huge and Morata made sure he used it well. Once again we could see how much space was left by Manchester United in midfield, something that they had been very disciplined about this season.
Late changes in the game
As Chelsea looked commanding, Mourinho tried to play his trump card by bringing in Fellaini on for Mkhitaryan. However this was not so effective as Conte’s side looked pretty much settled defensively. By bringing in Martial along with the Belgian for Jones, Mourinho shifted to a 4-3-3 with Rashford on the left and Martial on the right.
Man United looked to go route one in the final minutes, but Chelsea became successful in seeing them out. Conte brought in Rudiger for Zappacosta meaning Azpilicueta now went to the right wing back’s position while Rudiger played as the right centre half.
The tight but commanding win over United gave Chelsea the much needed room after losing 3-0 to Roma in midweek. This was a great reaction and Chelsea proved everyone wrong when Conte’s men were doubted of their allegiance to the Italian. The result put Chelsea on 22 points, 1 behind Spurs and United and 9 behind leaders Manchester City who had earlier won their game against Arsenal.
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