Manchester City avenged their league set-back against Chelsea with a convincing victory over Jose Mourinho’s men.
Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to the side that drew Norwich last weekend. Costel Pantilimon started in goal, while Joleon Lescott formed a centre-back partnership with Vincent Kompany. Javi Garcia slotted in midfield alongside Yaya Toure, and Edin Dzeko led the line.
Mourinho was still without John Terry, as he made one change to his starting XI with John Obi Mikel pushing Oscar to the bench.
Manchester City improved their overall shape, and defensive approach to stifle Chelsea’s attackers and dominate the midfield area.
Chelsea without the ball
Heading into the match, many were curious as to whether Mourinho would alter his tactics, but the Portuguese manager stuck to an identical game-plan that enabled Chelsea to record the double over their title rivals.
Without Terry, Mikel slotted into midfield and sat alongside Matic to limit space between the lines. The midfield duo pressed Yaya Toure – with help from Willian – and they closed down David Silva when he drifted infield. Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic quickly closed down wide men, whereas Ramires tucked into midfield to cope with Silva’s movement.
Similar to their league encounter, there was still space for Ivanovic to drive forward, but the introduction of Gael Clichy provided Pellegrini with a natural left-back that is keen on intercepting passes and staying tight to his opponents – yet he didn’t offer the same attacking threat as Aleksandar Kolarov, as he’s limited going forward.
Mourinho opted to stick with his initial approach without the ball, thus leaving his side predictable, and Pellegrini’s changes within his XI punished the league leaders.
The key to City’s success in this match was the manner in which they contained Chelsea’s attacking three. The league match at the Ethiad saw Chelsea continuously blitz City on the counter attack, and Pellegrini’s decision to tinker with his side’s shape was logical.
City broke into two banks of four without the ball, encouraging Dzeko and Jovetic to sit off the Chelsea defenders. Pellegrini instructed the attacking duo to press Nemanja Matic, restricting his ability to ignite Chelsea’s attacks from deep. The other key feat was City’s disciplined midfield – which will be pivotal against Barcelona this week – as the first bank ensured that Chelsea’s attackers didn’t locate pockets of space to receive the ball.
Javi Garcia offered better cover in midfield, constantly pressing Willian in deep positions, while his reliable passing aided City in possession. Clichy closed down Ramires whenever he received the ball, yet the Brazilian’s wastefulness in possession was beneficial to Pellegrini’s side.
The inclusion of Milner contained Hazard’s threat down the left side, despite a few moments of brilliance from the Belgian. Milner recorded five tackles – a match-high – and his persistence to prevent Hazard from isolating the Argentinian full-back was important. Hazard relished previous battles against Zabaleta, but here, Milner sat a few yards deeper, often leaving the Belgian in 1v2 situations when he received the rare opportunity to run at City’s defence. There were two separate occasions where Milner made a recovery run and powerfully broke up play to retain possession, which summed up the significance of his inclusion.
Likewise, even Kompany played a pivotal role in City’s work ethic without the ball. The Belgian pushed higher up the pitch to prevent Chelsea’s attacking three from turning towards goal. He comfortably dispossessed Willian on the half-way line on one occasion, but his foul on Hazard in the buildup to a Chelsea counter-attack signified City’s approach – prevent Chelsea from penetrating space in the final third at any cost.
Pellegrini instructed his side to contain Chelsea’s attacking three by limiting their time and space with the ball, and their dynamism enabled them to complete this task.
One of the issues Chelsea encountered in the first-half was their disjointed pressing. Although the tempo of City’s ball circulation increased, Chelsea didn’t press well as a unit, and they were easily bypassed in midfield.
City’s opening goal highlighted Ramires’ poor play, Chelsea’s poor pressing in midfield, and the importance of space between the lines. Clichy ran past Ramires towards the half-way line, and his off-balanced pass evaded two Chelsea players and found Silva between the lines. Dzeko was also unmarked in space ahead of him, and Mourinho’s men were caught out of position.
Silva quickly played in Dzeko, whereas Jovetic drifted alongside Milner, thus creating a 2v1 against Azpilicueta. Milner made a darting run inside of the Spanish full-back to drag him out of position, and Jovetic’s run behind Azpilicueta freed up space to receive Dzeko’s pass and fire a low shot past Petr Cech.
Chelsea admirably denied City space between the lines in previous matches this season, but a poor outing from Ramires, and City’s flexibility going forward gave Pellegrini’s men the attacking impetus they lacked in the previous meeting.
Mourinho decided to tinker with his personnel in the second half, by dismissing the isolated Samuel Eto’o for Mohamed Salah. This pushed the unimpressive Willian to the left, while Salah and Hazard played off one another. The goal was to get runners behind City’s defence with Salah’s pace, but Chelsea’s direct distribution was putrid, and the away side’s productivity in the final third didn’t improve.
Afterwards, Fernando Torres replaced Ramires, pushing Hazard and Salah to the flanks. While Torres successfully won a few aerial duels, and created a bit of space for Chelsea’s midfield to play into, their counter-attack still couldn’t cope with City’s pressing, and the quality in the final third was lacklustre.
Oscar replaced Willian in Mourinho’s final roll of the dice, but the change was overdue. Mourinho possibly expected a response from his side at the start of the second half, but Oscar’s tactical intelligence could’ve led to Chelsea being more proactive in possession. The Brazilian often drops deep to create space for the Chelsea wide men to attack; he also helps his teammates push forward as a unit. With Chelsea chasing the match, Oscar’s influence decreased, as they hurried their passes and were eager to break into the final third.
Ultimately, the match concluded when City doubled their lead. Prior to the goal, Samir Nasri replaced Jovetic with City aiming to sustain possession and further dominate central areas. Nasri’s a disciplined, creative midfielder that aims to attack space and play key passes around the final third; with Chelsea struggling to maintain a structured shape, Nasri’s movement was bound to torment the away side.
Here, Chelsea were dragged completely out of position, thus leaving Silva and Nasri unmarked in a pocket of space. Kompany played an accurate ball to Nasri, and he was free to drive forward, and slide in an incisive pass to Silva. Nasri continued his run and darted into the box to receive the ball, and slid it into an open net.
Chelsea failed to cope with Nasri and Silva’s collective movement, and the Frenchman killed the game, thus allowing Pellegrini to introduce Jesus Navas for Silva to balance City’s midfield.
Pellegrini’s additions to the starting XI played a key role in City’s victory over Chelsea, and the modifications within their defensive work were also beneficial. “Today we played very well in all senses. Defending, in possession, attacking – Chelsea didn’t have any chances to shoot and that was important for us,” Pellegrini said.
Chelsea’s dependence on quick, direct counter-attacks was nullified, and the Blues lacked variety in the final third. They were sloppy in possession, uninventive in attacking areas, and their passing was atrocious – Mourinho’s men didn’t record a shot on goal.
Pellegrini ensured Chelsea didn’t have space to launch counter-attacks, and his personnel changes played their roles to a tee. Jovetic and Nasri opened up additional space in the final third, while Milner aided Zabaleta in shackling Hazard. This was an improved performance from City; Pellegrini learned from his naivety in the league encounter, as his side produced a fantastic performance, which keeps their quadruple hopes alive.