Chelsea : GK – Courtois. DF – Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill. MF – Azpilicueta, Kante, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso. FW – Hazard, Morata.
Manchester City : GK – Ederson. DF – Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph. MF – De Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva. FW – Sterling, Jesus, Sane.
When I analyse a football game and am in charge of a game as a manager, I always draw the formation of the both teams before the kickoff in order to discern strengths and weaknesses in terms of formation and system. I depict in a manner lacking preciseness because I don’t have a lot of times before the game. Also, I do it with the understanding that formation is just a number and not so important in modern football as it has different shapes in each phase of play (defence, attack, both transitions, game situations etc). A picture above clearly express that there is massive spaces in both flank in front of Azpilicueta and Alonso. In addition, If the pitch is divided into the five channels, City has a numerical superiority over Chelsea at the wide channels. On the other hand, Chelsea is a very solid in the centre of the pitch as they have three central defenders and three central midfielders and two forwards. Good thing for Chelsea is that Fabregas can play at the central midfielder alongside Kante and Bakayoko who are able to compensate for Spaniard’s lack of defensive ability and work rate. Those facts would significantly affect the game. If I was a City manager, I would mull over to utilise these facts effectively in the game, and Pep did too in a great and brilliant way no one else cannot do.
Why City’s full backs played as a defensive midfielder
It is fundamental but when it comes to build-up, attacking team want to use players as less as possible in the defensive line in order to strengthen quantitatively in the area where is basically midfielders and forwards. Antonio Conte employed Hazard and Morata as a central forward, Belgian was not playing as a genuine striker though. Man city did build-up play by 3 players which is very plausible, because build-up play should be done by 1 extra player than opposition (3 DF – 2 FW, 4DF – 3FW etc). Furthermore, Chelsea’s 2 forwards did not give a intensive pressure toward the ball holder and was waiting the opposition around the centre circle in the first half. So, City was quite easy to go through the first gate (opposition strikers line).
It is clear that Chelsea’s strikers was trying to block the passing lane between opposition defenders and Fernandinho like Italian national team’s strikers Eder and Pelle did in Euro 2016 under Conte. So, City put Delph on the defensive midfield line which enable Brazilian to shift from centre to a bit right. The movement from English man was successful to create more options for ball holder. If there is a space, both defensive midfielders are able to receive the ball from a defender. If not, City opted for the switch of play from Walker to Otamendi, whilst both defensive midfielders have to move to the right so as to create a space for Argentine defender. You can often see that Otamendi utilised that space to progress the ball.
When either striker ceases to provide a coverage, City were trying to pass the ball through the gate.
If either full back was not positioned alongside Fernandinho, City would’ve put themselves at a disadvantage considerably in the game when the transition from attack to defence. This is the example if one of them doesn’t push his position up. Chelsea were pretty easy to counter-attack from the bottom of the field. If this Spaniard has a ball without pressure, Morata could easily use the space behind City’s defenders with accurate chipped pass from Fabregas. Thus, putting Delph into defensive midfielder is also beneficial when the transition from attack to defence to reduce the space and maintain time for teammates to be coming back to their original defensive position.
1, Reduce the number of players who do build-up in defensive line.
2, In order to strengthen in the midfield area to ensure the numerical superiority and create space and receive the ball
3, Support for Fernandinho when the transition from attack to defence to pick up the second ball and cover the space near him and behind Silva etc which are defensive matters.
Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva
As you can see a first screenshot above, City succeeded to gain the numerical superiority in the midfield area. They are trying to obtain the quantitative and positional superiority over opposition in each area or line especially defensive and midfield (if the pitch is divided into 3 horizontally). What is more, the process of progression of the ball is done gradually and carefully when the structure of opposition system is organised, like hiding some secrets not to recognise by others. This calls positional play. I did not surprised about Silva and KDB on the same side as Guardiola have already implemented Jesus-Aguero on the same side/lane which caused a confusion and hesitation for opposition either central defender as he/she doesn’t understand which players he/she has to see or mark. Anyway, Silva’s movement could produce a combination play among De Bruyne and Sterling on the same side which would be effective from the perspective of quality and ability of players who are related to this situation. Of course, Pep Guardiola considered Farbregas will be a liability to the Chelsea because of his inability to defend. Additionally, Sterling and Sane stayed on the touch line to pin the opposition wing back so as not them to press KDB or Silva in the early stage. Once these two attacking midfielders were able to get the ball around wide area, Sterling and Sane would begin to change the position from the side to a bit centre, then Chelsea’s whole centre backs will fall into the circumstance that they have to mark or see opposition whole 3 strikers, moreover, wing back joins the press after the expected, proper or usual time which enable one of two midfielders to have enough time to construct the attack. Hence, Belgian midfielder (sometimes Silva too showed a second screenshot above) was deployed around the flank and they intended to circulate the ball via their niche for occupying these aforementioned space and pinpoint the weakness of Londoners which make it possible to attack effectively.
In that case, one of Chelsea’s CB, Cahill wad dragged by Silva which seems dangerous situation. I guess the movement from Silva is acted by his intention to invite his mark in courtesy of his intelligence. Inviting the man marking means you can manipulate the opposition, if this is kind of exaggerated, I can also say that you are dominant over them because you are able to create passing course which is vertical one more easier than when opposition is using zonal marking. In that case, good thing for City is Silva invited man marking from CB and creating a space behind the defenders. It is difficult to say that Cahill’s action was right or wrong. I would rather say City made use of spatial advantage perfectly that affected uncertainty at Chelsea’s defence, they were struggling to mark City’s players throughout the game because Guardiola’s men were too good at finding and exploiting a space.
Silva’s gesture clearly evinced that he let Fernandinho know De Bruyne is free to receive the ball. Expressed like “pass the ball to him in the first place”. Obviously, KDB was utilising the space in front of Alonso as I said earlier.
City’s pressing from attacking third
The style and intensity of the pressing was opposite to Chelsea. City were endeavouring to get the ball in the high area as soon as possible when especially after the goal kick if Courtois chose to pass the ball to nearest defender and phase of transition. Players were allocated the role and sort of rules how to press the ball as a unit and team by a Catalan manager.
When Rudiger has the ball, Sane tried to stand the passing lane between Rudiger and Azpilicueta in order to use his cover shadow before pressing to the ball holder. That means City were successful to reduce the number of players to do pressing because one player sees two opposition players.
If Rudiger decided to pass the ball back to GK, City shift their position and mark like a picture above shows. Holed circles are new position where they are going to after the pass the ball back to Courtois.
This is the complete and final shape. City’s 3 strikers, Sterling, Jesus, Sane were using their cover shadow that made it possible to delete the 3 passing lanes from GK to Alonso, Bakayoko and Azpilicueta. Also, they are still able to press the opposition ahead including a ball holder. Killed two birds with one stone. In fact, This way of counter pressing evoked Courtois’s blunder which the ball hit to Jesus, that was likely to be goal for City. Courtois had no option to pass the ball to the teammate, fast and severe pressure by City forced Courtois not to make a decision comfortably.
Chelsea’s solution to break the first line of City was to form a triangle among CB, WB and CMF. This is very simple.
There is two tactical details. First of all, Rudiger has to pass the ball into Kante or Bakayoko’s right foot. Because, this is simply their strongest foot and if the marker precede to passing lane for Azpilicueta, his first touch could easily be done and progress the ball forward by utilising centre of the pitch. If marker still sticks him in the normal manner, he will be able to pass the ball to Azpilicueta by one touch and could break the first line of opposition. Secondly, Azpilicueta’s position is paramount. he should be paralleled with Sane as he can disappear from Sane’s peripheral vision, create a passing course from ball holder if Sane leave that passing course slightly because of concentration upon the ball holder. Also, he can preserve the proper area and distance in order to receive the ball from midfielder after the vertical pass from a center back (third man running).
Chelsea changed the formation to 1-5-4-1 in defensive phase after 10 minutes in the second half, but ambiguous. To what extent should Bakayoko cover the area? To what extent should Willian has a role to join in the defence? It seems that Chelsea’s each line pushed a little higher. That means a space gap between the each line was generated. City often changed the shape and the number of players to do build-up in the defensive line as Chelsea had only Hazard as a striker.
Once City were able to lure the one player from a opposition midfielder to a ball holder who plays as defender, They aimed to attack within 10 seconds when a massive space is created between the line of Chelsea. City changed the style of attacking play, they selected more direct play as intensity of Chelsea’s defence was increased.
City was still not flawless when it comes to Delph’s hole after the transition from attack to defence, in fact, Chelsea exploited the space. If City’s defenders, Otamendi, Stones and Walker make a coverage to fill up the Delph’s position, opposite side of Alonso would be a free man who can enter the 18 yards box to receive the crossing.
Morata’s injury was a serious blow to Chelsea from the perspective of their strategy in this game. They needed a man who are able to keep the ball in the centre under the huge pressure from opposition defender as they sit back deeply when they are in defence. Costa would be a terrific option for this but he is gone. I believe that Batshuayi should be played for Morata as a substitution. Chelsea in this match was trying to dominate the game to sit back to defend and being patient to find a way to counter attack when City put extra players on their attack or they don’t prepare well for after the loss of the ball etc. Chelsea needed a genuine striker who are assimilated to play centrally .
For me, Willian should play as a winger or if he plays as a central role, this is when Chelsea possess the ball more than the opponent. Physically, he can’t endure the pressure from centre halves in premier league at the centre of the pitch, using the body in the wide area is completely different from in the centre.
I agreed with the idea that Conte changed the position between Fabregas and bakayoko, but it appears that it didn’t work. When Conte returned the formation to 1-3-4-3 and put vibrant Pedro and Batshuayi, it looked like they could get out of stagnation. They were may be able to acquire the spatial advantage. Conte has been given a pretty torrid time in this match.