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Tactical Analysis: Manchester City’s commanding win over Chelsea

The lead at the top of the Premier League table keeps getting wider and wider.

After Manchester City’s last-gasp win over Arsenal and Chelsea and Liverpool’s enthralling 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, the defending champions hosted the Blues at the Etihad Stadium with a chance to go 13 points clear at the top of the league with a win.

That is what ended up happening, as the only goal of the match ensured that the three points stayed in Manchester. It was not undeserved either because the hosts dominated proceedings for most of the game, as this xT (Expected Threat) timeline depicts.

(Image Credit: Twelve)

As far as the line-ups were concerned, there were minor surprises on both sides. The lack of Rúben Dias for City was interesting, while Chelsea lined up with Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic on either side of Romelu Lukaku as the likes of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner watched on from the bench.

(Image Credits: Wyscout)

From a tactical point of view, the match was quite simply a case of both teams respecting each other a bit too much. City dominated possession and Chelsea did not seem too worried about that as they were happy to sit in their narrow and vertically compact 5-2-3 mid-block with a focus on counterattacking.

City were wary of the visitors’ threat on the break, so they were very cautious while committing bodies forward in their 2-3-2-3 shape in possession.

Most of the hosts’ attacks followed a similar pattern: They would progress centrally before being forced out wide in the final third by Chelsea’s narrow defensive shape. Therefore, their touches in the attacking zones were firmly concentrated in the wings.

Manchester City’s touchmap in the attacking zones against Chelsea

On the left, César Azpilicueta and Antonio Rüdiger did a very good job of keeping Jack Grealish quiet, while neither João Cancelo nor Kevin De Bruyne were able to provide enough support to the summer signing.

On the right, Raheem Sterling got the better of Marcos Alonso on a few occasions while Kyle Walker got forward frequently and Bernardo Silva often popped up as a pseudo-right-back to create overloads. Therefore, most of their box entries, primarily through carrying the ball, came on the right.

Manchester City’s box entries against Chelsea (Blue lines – passes; Dotted lines – carries)

Unfortunately, they struggled to complete the final pass as Chelsea crammed the box with their defenders, so most of their shots were fired from tight angles.

Manchester City’s shotmap against Chelsea

Chelsea, as aforementioned, planned to create their chances on the counterattack. However, they struggled to do so, failing to register a single shot in the first half. The Blues did fashion a couple of chances early on in the second half, but their failure to take them ended up proving to be quite costly.

(Image Credit: Twelve)

With sustained possession, though, the visitors were very poor as just 30% of their possessions (sequences of possession) led to final third entries. For context, that ratio goes up to 48% for City.

In the reverse fixture this season, the main theme was City’s high press which pinned Chelsea in their defensive third for long spells of the match.

We saw more of this here too, as City’s 4-2-3-1 high press which involved Phil Foden closing down the keeper with Thiago Silva in his cover-shadow, the two wingers staying narrow to press the two wide centre-backs, and De Bruyne trying his best to keep the two Chelsea midfielders occupied worked a treat.

City’s best chances of the match came after some successful pressing. In the first half, a turnover in the attacking third led to Jack Grealish forcing a save out of Kepa Arrizabalaga while through on goal, and in the second period, the deciding goal came quickly after the Chelsea goalkeeper was forced to put his foot through the ball while under pressure.

City were far from perfect in this match, but the level of control they had despite that shows just how much better they are than Chelsea currently.

The Blues are all but out of this title race, and Liverpool cannot afford to slip up now as they could close the gap to eight points by winning their next two matches. But the most likely scenario obviously is the Premier League trophy staying in Manchester for another year.

Stats courtesy Twelve, Opta via Vizz App.

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