Match Review: Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City

Updated: April 6, 2017

After their hiccup against Crystal Palace last week, many a Chelsea fan was feeling the nerves ahead of Manchester City’s visit to Stamford Bridge. Despite their struggles this season, Pep Guardiola’s team isn’t one to take lightly. As Antonio Conte suggested in his pre-match press conference, City have one of the best (if not the best) sides in the league and that they challenge for the title and other silverware seems a given.

In their most recent match, Manchester City drew Arsenal at the Emirates and were looking to pick up some valuable points at the Bridge, but it wasn’t to be. Chelsea had an answer for almost everything City threw at them, although John Stones had an excellent chance to equalize late on which he skied over the bar.

Starting Strong

Chelsea’s first half began much as it did against Palace – on the front foot and looking dangerous. In possession, they operated in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Costa lead the line with Pedro and Eden Hazard either side of him and supported by Cesc Fàbregas and N’Golo Kanté. Fàbregas was particularly impressive going forward though his work covering the back three was made difficult thanks to the prowess of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.

By playing direct balls through to Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sané, Manchester City’s defenders bypassed the midfield pressure and helped launch attacks. This was perhaps the best any side has performed against Conte’s 3-4-3 which has afforded Chelsea more possession and the ability to dictate play based on their control of the center of the park.

Chelsea drew first blood thanks to the quality and positioning of Eden Hazard. Operating behind Costa, Hazard switched sides to link-up with Pedro and César Azpilicueta, and the latter did well to overlap into open space before assisting the Belgian for his and the team’s first goal. Hazard is deadly in these sorts of situations. The mere fact that a player of his calibre can find enough space inside the opponent’s box to have an uncontested shot is a testament to his movement off of the ball.

Based on the gif above, it’s clear that Eden was all over the field against City, earning 54 touches in almost every location on the pitch. Furthermore, he was once again our most fouled player, drawing spot kicks in dangerous locations four times.

Clever Coaching Saves the Day

Antonio Conte exhibited his tactical nous by making a halftime substitution to change the team’s shape and to shore up the defense. Recognizing that City were finding ways to gain a numerical advantage in midfield, Conte removed Zouma in favor of Matic and returned Azpilicueta to his familiar position at right wing-back.

Chelsea spent most of the second half playing in a 3-5-2, limiting the space in midfield and staying compact in defense. The Blues immediately appeared more solid through the center and City were forced to have creative players drop deep or play the ball out wide in order to penetrate Chelsea’s back line.

As they have all season, Chelsea absorbed attack after attack, restricting space in wide areas and maintaining the ability to break out and counter at a moment’s notice. Leroy Sané had very little joy attacking Pedro and Azpilicueta and it must be said that the former’s commitment to defense was admirable. Conte’s gotten the very best out of the diminutive Spaniard as of late, and it’s become very hard for Willian to replace him in the starting XI.

Chelsea now need just 18 points to win the title, whether they be points won or those dropped by second-place Tottenham Hotspur. After yet another convincing victory against such a challenging opponent, the Blues will feel their job is almost done. Next up, Chelsea face Bournemouth away. We march on.

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