Manchester City faced off against a London Club for the third consecutive game when Chelsea visited the Etihad. The Champions had lost the reverse fixture back in October courtesy of a brilliant goal from Kevin De Bruyne. The game ended 1-0 as City proved everyone why they were capable of lifting the title this season as they handsomely defeated the Champions in their den.
Coming to the game, there were many psychological issues revolving around the Chelsea troop as the rumours suggested that Hazard is unhappy, while Conte has been disappointed by the board’s lack of investment unlike the Manchester clubs. On the other hand, City are probably in the best days ever since their inception after a stellar run in the Premier League who had just lifted the League Cup, the first trophy under Pep Guardiola.
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Manchester City (4-3-3) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
Ederson // Walker – Otamendi – Laporte – Zinchenko // de Bruyne – Gundogan – David Silva // Bernardo Silva – Aguero – Sane
Chelsea (3-4-3-0) | Manager: Antonio Conte
Courtois // Azpilicueta – Christensen – Rudiger // Moses – Fabregas – Drinkwater – Alonso // Willian – Hazard – Pedro
While it is obvious that City have been putting in some brilliant displays, there has been no big need to change the system and hence Pep Guardiola used his regular set up. While there were just few changes in the personnel, the idea remained the same with Walker, Otamendi, Laporte and Zinchenko started the game. The Ukranian youngster started ahead of Danilo who started the game against Arsenal in the league two days ago. Laporte came in for Kompany and the former looked very comfortable on the ball for the full 90.
Those were just the two changes for City. Chelsea, on the other hand, replaced Morata with Pedro and Hazard was used as the False 9. Kante was replaced with Fabregas as Chelsea started in their customary set up, the 3-4-3. Given the game is being played at Etihad, Chelsea had to defend and cannot go for the kill and play exactly as wanted by their manager. In the past, when Chelsea defended deep, they’ve defended in 5-4-1 and the 5-3-2 with respect to orientation of ball and opposition players. To counter this Pep Guardiola selected his team so that they were good on the ball and build up without compromising on the defensive qualities.
Pep Guardiola explaining about his choice of centre backs. pic.twitter.com/AmdMxztelw
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) March 7, 2018
City’s half space dominance
It’s obvious that the battle in the half space is the major area which would be focussed on when a 4-3-3 meets a 3-4-3. The gap between the wing back and the central midfielder would be ideal space for the #8 of the 3-men midfield to operate. The battle creates ideal 2v1 situations for the team which makes use of the 4-3-3 vs 3-4-3. And in this case, it was De Bruyne and David Silva exploiting the gap between Alonso & Drinkwater and Moses & Fabregas.
However in most instances in the game it was visible that City looked to dominate the left half space more than the opposite side. With Zinchenko playing on the left, it was understandable that he was utilized in a higher position up the pitch given his natural attacking talent. Sane provided the width as Gundogan who inclined towards the space between the centre and left played at the base of this staggered structure.
Also, Kevin de Bruyne was seen operating within the same zone with David Silva as their combinational play proved to be very effective in the flank which gave much freedom for Sane to operate in his favoured region. As seen in the image below, Willian is attracted to Silva and the Spaniard realises it. He plays the ball to Gundogan and moves into the free space available in front of Fabregas.
This made Willian and Fabregas to move along in the direction of Silva which creates space Kevin De Bruyne on the back of Chelsea’s line of four. De Bruyne moves into the space once Silva dragged the opponent. And as soon as De Bruyne received the ball in space, he plays a simple one touch pass to Silva who now has bypassed his marker. Also positioning of De Bruyne free in space has attracted the ball near centre back, Azpilicueta. As he starts to press, the space opens up for David Silva who is brilliantly fed by De Bruyne and David Silva can now operate in a position where he can play it to Sane or Aguero on either side.
This situation is a perfect example of how City players manipulate the space, movement of players and the ball to move the opponent and play the next move.
David Silva was the most important player during the build-up for City, as he became the focal point in the left half space. As City started to concentrate more on the left half space, De Bruyne had more room to operate on the other side and he would often move in centrally to act as another passing option. As seen from the above image, Gundogan acts at the base carrying the ball forward. In this move, we can see Silva controlling the half space and as he receives the ball from Gundogan he can easily take a turn and play it to the other creative #8 Kevin de Bruyne who has found himself some space in the central channel.
In the above image we can see how City made use of Zinchenko’s movements and Silva presence to create space in the central channel high up the pitch. Hence by occupying the half space, City have moved Chelsea players away from the centre which created space for De Bruyne, arguably City’s best player this season.
More width in the left allows Bernardo inside
It was the left side through which City concentrated to attack as almost 46% of the attacks came in from the left. This was due to the fact that City dominated the left in numbers as well as occupying superior positions. In many instances, Zinchenko provided the width as Sane drifted into the half space to play alongside a #8. As we can identify from the video below, Zinchenko is seen to receive the ball as fed by Laporte. As soon as Zinchenko moves wide, Sane drifts into the centre.
HT: Man City 0-0 Chelsea
Leroy Sane arrived in crucial spaces for City during the first 45 minutes as City’s outlet during the first half. Sane tucked into half space as he dragged his marker and provided Zinchenko the channel who in turn played him in the final third. pic.twitter.com/iOVpc6tq22
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) March 4, 2018
In an instance, City overloaded the left flank and the last ball was aimed at Aguero in the centre of the box who left it to Bernardo Silva. Bernardo Silva was able to shrug Alonso off his line however his shot went very wide instead. The 1v1 battle in the right flank was very exciting as it is one of the most important areas in which Pep Guardiola excels in his details. Bernardo Silva was often seen receiving diagonal balls in space and was left with just one player to take on, Marcos Alonso.
Also, there was another instance in the game in which Sane dribbled past the defenders in the left and played it onto Aguero who gave it to Bernardo Silva and the Portuguese missed the goal by a short margin. The move was exactly similar to the goal scored by Bernardo Silva against Arsenal.
As seen from the below instance, City used a staggered 3-2 structure at the back instead of Gundogan playing infront of a back four. This was utilized in such a way that Zinchenko played higher up the pitch as compared to Walker and this allowed Sane to move infield. Also this positioning helped Walker to play diagonal long balls to Zinchenko who would be in space.
As seen from the above image, City used a staggered 3-2 structure and this in most of the instances translated to four men midfield with Zinchenko, Silva, De Bruyne and Bernardo while Aguero would be joined by Sane and the latter would be replaced by De Bruyne/Silva when Sane comes in the line. The below image shows the instance through which City scored the goal. As we can see from here, Gundogan has played a through ball on to Aguero breaking the lines. Aguero controls it against two central defenders and the presence of Sane has delayed Moses to track David Silva who starts a run behind Aguero.
Aguero plays it on to the space wherein David Silva can play into the box without much pressure. This is a very important situation as Bernardo Silva is running towards the goal while Alonso is facing the opposite end. This puts the Portuguese in an advantageous situation and is able to win the race against Alonso and tap the ball into goal. The key here is also the ball from David Silva which should curve past the wing back and reach Bernardo Silva.
Chelsea’s defensive stand
It was evident from the first minute that Chelsea wanted to defend deep given they played at the Etihad. They played in a 5-4-1 structure for major part of the game with Hazard as the false 9 while Willian and Pedro tucked inside the central midfield line along with the two men double pivot. Here we can see Chelsea following the banks of four and five off the ball and there was zero intention to press the City players in City’s defensive-third and middle third until 35 minutes in the half.
Chelsea did not cross the half way line and it was total domination of the ball from City as Chelsea had zero shots both on and off target. Only after Chelsea got the confidence of keeping City off the goal (courtesy of a goal line clearance from Azpilicueta) till 35 minutes, Chelsea actually looked to get a mere gasp of the ball. Only in the last 10 minutes of the game, Chelsea started to get into the City half and started to press the ball carriers in midfield.
Chelsea switched to a 5-3-2 with Willian starting to play alongside Hazard who had limited to almost zero supply. In the below instance we can see Willian playing with Hazard and he is looking to press Laporte who has the ball. As seen from the below picture, Chelsea left huge spaces to cover in the wide areas when they used this idea but they left it to the wing backs to deal with the 1v1s as they sought to win the ball back through pressing and creating next move to attack.
As seen in this instance below, Pedro has moved on to press Walker as he is yet to receive the ball. Both the wide players of Chelsea have now been given freedom to press forward as the play up forward with a 5-2-3 shape.
These movements were predominantly seen in the game as Chelsea switched between 5-4-1 and 5-3-2 however City almost found a way to break the deadlock only for Azpilicueta to clear off the line. Though it was job done for Conte at the end of first half, it was there to be seen that Chelsea failed to put up an attacking display to be worthy of defending Champions.
City’s control in the game
City scored in the opening minutes of the second half after developments in the left half space with the late run of David Silva behind Aguero. City showed great control in the game just like the match up in the first half of the season which they won at the Stamford Bridge. They achieved control in the game through organised positioning and spacing between players, a basic trait in Pep Guardiola’s sides. However in this game, City showed much positional awareness and it can be seen in the image below.
Utilizing the 4-3-3 shape, we can see how City have stayed strictly to their positions with full backs giving the width and the #8s tucking inside either half spaces. By making use of this triangular positioning, City have achieved success this season and it was very visible in the game vs Chelsea. Here we can see Gundogan playing at the centre of this 2-3-2-3 which will transition to 2-3-5 once De Bruyne and Silva join the attacking line giving space for the two full backs to come in and play infield as the inverted full backs.
In other instances, Zinchenko was seen playing alongside De Bruyne and Silva and the structure resonated something similar to 3-1-4-2, which City had used in the starting stages of the season. This opened up more options for City upfront with Zinchenko acting as a long diagonal passing option for Walker and Bernardo Silva for Otamendi. Once they get on the verge of receiving a pass from the back, the nearest striker would drop deep/run in the same line to switch the play to the next line with one touch as diagonal balls will have more time for the opposite defenders to judge the move and press the pass receiver.
Also the presence of two up front allowed the likes of De Bruyne and Silva to operate with much more space in between the lines as the two upfront would occupy the defensive line of three and creates 1v1s in the wide areas. This is where the likes of Zinchenko, Sane and Bernardo Silva excel against Chelsea wing backs.
As witnessed from the earlier games, the #8s are the most important players on the pitch and the play revolves around them. In this set up, De Bruyne has been asked to play a bit deeper than usual with David Silva playing the highest of the midfield trio. Though his stats have fallen down compared to his blistering start in the first half of the season, his overall performance in games has started to become a crucial factor for City’s wins in recent weeks. However in this game, given Chelsea’s defensive set up, both De Bruyne and Silva occupied similar positions on either side of the centre. They occupied respective half spaces in many instances, while in some instances De Bruyne dropped into the left to allow Silva play further more forward.
As we can see from the above instance, three City players occupy the space in between the lines while Gundogan has the ball in midfield. City utilize Chelsea’s spatial gap between the two defensive lines and Silva & De Bruyne occupy the space unmarked. Gundogan plays the short diagonal to De Bruyne who in turn plays it to Silva on the up. These movements allow players on the wide to come infield once Silva gets hold onto the ball in one of the most important areas of the pitch, unmarked.
This below image is one of the examples by which the #8s controlled the game as we can see them in space between the two lines. Here we can see both the two players being marked by the opposite numbers and hence Aguero has dropped deep in order to support. To receive the ball from Gundogan and once he receives the ball, the man who presses out of position will create space for the #8 to move into and this will create the lane for Aguero to find the man in the next line.
Hence by making use of the space in the midfield, Aguero has dropped deep and moved Chelsea players accordingly to create space for #8s, who have been marked. Hence City attained control in midfield by bringing their #8s into play even in tighter situations. Also, by maintaining the ball high up the pitch, City made sure that the attacking players of Chelsea were not supplied adequately.
A win against the Champions in front of the home crowd would always be a fitting result to prove why the league leaders deserve to win the league and it is exactly happened at the Etihad. City though were expected to win on the day, did it handsomely by controlling most parts of the game just like the reverse fixture. The win puts City within just 12 points of securing the Premier League title as Pep Guardiola became the first manager ever to mark a league double over Antonio Conte in Premier League, after having suffered the same last season.