Manchester City Held by Outstanding Chelsea Defence
Manchester City went away to Chelsea hoping to come back with another three points. The London club had been struggling and there were questions about Maurizio Sarri’s tactics. So naturally, Chelsea went about and beat City 2-0 with an emphatic defensive performance. City tried and tried but could not break them down in the end.
It was a first-half that was dominated by City. They controlled the possession and controlled the tactics. Chelsea were employing a strange press, whereas City got further up the field as they backed off more and more. They allowed City’s defenders to move further and further up the field with every pass but it was brilliantly executed.
When the ball was in the Manchester City half, the press was on. The front three of Willian, Eden Hazard and Pedro was a fluid and speedy front three but, as City progressed up the field, they retreated into a traditional tactical block. At the base of that block, the backline of Chelsea was absolutely outstanding.
Their defensive block was at its finest and it kept City from being able to penetrate, not to mention an even better ability to pass it out. We all know about the passing of David Luiz and it was on full display today. Right before half-time, he played a world-class diagonal ball to Pedro, who played another diagonal to Willian.
Willian, combining with Eden Hazard, cut the ball back to N’Golo Kante who smashed it in. Kante was only able to receive the ball because Leroy Sane had completely switched off. He had a few good moments in the first half, the German, but by the 54th minute, he was taken off after a bad performance.
After half-time, it was reasonable to expect Manchester City to try and frustrate Chelsea; to be the better side. It turned out completely differently, though. City were completely outclassed in the second half. They tried to keep up, Gabriel Jesus came on and they started some to combine, but nothing threatening. Their biggest second-half chances all came from Chelsea giveaways at the back.
The lack of creativity by City in this game is what will have Pep Guardiola most upset. The team did not have enough imagination to break down Chelsea’s defence. There weren’t any moments where either David Silva or Bernardo Silva got control of the ball and made something happen and, to make matters worse, David Silva was taken off holding his hamstring in the 64th minute.
Manchester City continued to leave Chelsea the space to pull completely ahead in this game and, in the 78th minute, David Luiz found the ball after a looping corner from Eden Hazard. Luiz had an equally artful header that looped into the far corner. It was 2-0 Chelsea and it stayed that way till the end, they were the better side.
Many people will point to the lack of a striker as the reason for City’s struggle. For most of the game, Riyad Mahrez played centrally and didn’t really get into the game and then, when Gabriel Jesus came on, he got it in a little, but not in dangerous positions.
There was a reason for that: Chelsea’s midfield. N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic absolutely shut down the City midfield. They were the reason why the two Silva’s were unable to get on the ball and make things happen. Without those two pulling the strings, City are much easier to control, no matter who is in the front line.
Whether or not this will be replicable will remain to be seen. There is no team in the world who have a player that covers as much ground as N’Golo Kante. He is such a unique player that a system like this might not be replicable by another club and that club would be hard-pressed to keep both David Silva and Bernardo Silva under wraps for another 90 minutes.
Also, this game exposed another weakness for City: Fabian Delph. He played well last season but he is not a left-back and his performances today and in midweek make that abundantly clear. Whether or not City will reinforce or whether Benjamin Mendy comes back soon may determine if that weakness costs them.
Due to Liverpool winning their game against Bournemouth, they now take a one-point lead over Manchester City. It’s unlikely to last as both teams have a grueling Christmas period, a period that culminates with them playing each other just after the New Year. City’s first loss will likely not harm them too much because a Liverpool loss is sure to be coming soon.