Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Tevez wins it
Chelsea’s 100% run ends with a third consecutive defeat to Manchester City.
Roberto Mancini chose Dedryck Boyata at right-back to ease his defensive worries, with Pablo Zabaleta at left-back. David Silva got the nod over Adam Johnson, and started on the right.
Carlo Ancelotti named his side on Friday afternoon, and stuck to it. Indeed, with injury problems, there were few other options for him, and Chelsea lined up in the 4-3-3 shape they’ve favoured so far this season.
With broadly similar shapes, there was a predictable element of the two sides cancelling each other out. With defensive-minded midfield trios of Mikel-Ramires-Essien and De Jong-Barry-Toure, there were few driving runs towards goal from that position, and the midfields basically played in front of each other. Michael Essien and Yaya Toure are both well capable of playing in more attacking positions than they are accustomed to (some would say Essien is better there) but that doesn’t hide the fact that for those two to be the two ‘creators’ out of six midfielders is an unusually negative situation.
Lack of penetration
The major surprise from the first half was how cautious Ashley Cole was in getting forward. With Manchester City playing Silva on the right (rather than James Milner, a far better player defensively), it seemed like Cole would have plenty of opportunities to get forward, especially with Silva drifting in so much. To add to this, Boyata was trying to stick to Florent Malouda very closely, so Malouda drifting inside and Cole storming forward on the overlap seemed an obvious route of attack for Chelsea. But this happened only once – and other than that, Chelsea offered little threat from open play.
Manchester City weren’t particularly more adventurous, although in Pablo Zabaleta they possessed the full-back with the most attacking intent. Indeed, their shape looked more like a 4-5-1 than Chelsea’s 4-3-3 (although obviously there are severe overlaps between the two when in attacking and defensive phases). Indeed, the 3 v 3 battle became 5 v 5 when the wide midfielders became involved in the action, and the main difference between the two sides’ approach was the role of the forwards – Didier Drogba stayed up the pitch and waited for service, whilst Carlos Tevez dropped deep and linked play. In the first half, Tevez completed 13 passes, Drogba completed just 1, and City were more compact.
Mancini’s strategy against the ‘big’ sides has been to sit back and play on the counter-attack. This worked especially well at Stamford Bridge last season, when Tevez and Craig Bellamy played on the break and City won 2-4. The problem in the first half here was that Chelsea rarely came onto them and City had little space to counter-attack, but as soon as they did in the second, City pounced and Tevez scored for the fifth consecutive Premier League game against Chelsea.
City played a relatively deep defensive line, but also kept Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry solidly ahead of the back four. They were ambitiously trying to deny Chelsea space both in behind the defence and between the lines – and it just about worked, thanks to some excellent individual defensive performances. Vincent Kompany was man-of-the-match but Barry and De Jong’s tackling stats (9/10 and 4/4 respectively) were equally important in breaking up the play and Ramires, in particular, struggled to cope with the pressure. Rather than attempting to stop Drogba, they instead stopped the supply to him – he only completed one pass in the second half, and was removed after 75 minutes.
Chelsea’s best chance of getting back in the game came from Essien’s long-range shots (he had six, but it was only in the final minute that he got one on target) but this rather summed up their lack of creativity in midfield. Essien is a more dynamic player when Frank Lampard is absent, but here he showed that he’s not quite up to replacing him against strong opposition, both in terms of shooting and creativity.
Gareth Barry turned in a superb performance
Ancelotti’s substitutions were rather confusing, requiring three distinct shifts in shape – and by the end, the team wasn’t particularly more attack-minded. The central midfield zone seemed disjointed, Chelsea created little and the main danger came from Cole’s forward runs – when he was given freedom to bomb on forward (with Yuri Zhirkov covering him). It was a shame this didn’t happen from the start.
In truth, Chelsea’s problems here stemmed from the weakness of their substitutes bench. They were without some important players through injury – but the bench of Turnbull, Zhirkov, Ferreira, Sturridge, Van Aanholt, Kakuta and McEachran must be one of the weakest selection of substitutes named since Roman Abramovich took over the club. Ancelotti wants to bring youth players through, but consider that Chelsea brought on Hernan Crespo and Arjen Robben in this fixture five years ago, and that seven doesn’t look great.
Equally, they could have done with some more attacking presence from the right. Nicolas Anelka drifted inside (as he is always likely to do) but Branislav Ivanovic doesn’t offer a real attacking threat from right-back. He’s an excellent defender and certainly decent on the ball, but as a converted centre-back simply doesn’t have the attacking instincts for a game like this, when the midfield is struggling for creativity and looking for support from the full-backs. Jose Bosingwa is a very good attacking right-back, and would have been useful here (or equally, it would have been useful if Zhirkov was able to play on the right, coming on as a substitute).
In a game like this, the first goal is always extremely important. It came from one of the very very few genuine counter-attacks in the game, and Tevez was always a likely scorer considering the problems he’s caused Chelsea in recent years.
Mancini’s tactics (sit back, play on break) again got the better of Chelsea, who looked toothless when behind. There was simply a complete lack of creativity with an overwhelmingly functional midfield three, a lack of support from full-back and Drogba isolated. City were compact and able to link up seamlessly, but Chelsea were relying more on individual creativity which never came.Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Tevez wins it