Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea: City start brightly but Chelsea rally late on

April 15, 2013

The starting line-ups

Manchester City won a surprisingly attack-minded game at Wembley.

Roberto Mancini was without David Silva, so started Sergio Aguero after his excellent goal at Old Trafford on Monday. Costel Pantilimon continued as City’s dedicated FA Cup goalkeeper.

Rafael Benitez used his three creators behind Demba Ba – Frank Lampard and John Terry continue to be left out.

City played better football over the 90 minutes, although frequently made the wrong decisions in the final third.

Attacking game

Previous clashes between these two managers have been astonishingly dull, so it was somewhat surprising that this game was open, attack-minded and end-to-end from the opening ten minutes.

The positive team selections of both managers contributed – Ramires and Yaya Toure were deployed as one of the two deeper midfielders rather than in the attacking trio behind the main striker, so they charged forward to combine with the front four, meaning more attacking options – and space for the other side to break into when moves broke down. With such a quick game, it wasn’t an overly tactical encounter. The tempo probably suited City, with Chelsea suffering from fixture congestion in recent weeks – although surprisingly, it was City who tired most obviously.

City combinations

As at Old Trafford on Monday night, City put together good attacking moves throughout the side, particularly when the wide players came inside to the centre of the pitch, overloading Chelsea in that zone. The format of the attack was different – Carlos Tevez generally played behind Aguero, rather than in the role he played on Monday as the primary striker.

Still, this worked well. With both Aguero and Tevez often making runs towards the ball, David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic’s positoning was uncertain. They started to move towards the play, but then found both Samir Nasri and James Milner also in that zone, threatening to make runs in behind. City’s movement and quick passing in central areas was very good, with Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta both getting into advanced positions, stretching the play and ensuring Nasri and Milner could move inside without the play becoming too congested.

Crucially, City had a man to prompt the attacking moves – Toure, who charged forward powerfully from midfield. The nature of the game suited his marauding midfield runs, and when he committed himself forward into attack, City caused significant overloads in central positions.

However City’s decision-making and final pass was often woeful, with Milner, Aguero and Toure all guilty of sloppy passes when City appeared moments away from getting a shot in.

Chelsea breaks

Although Chelsea had moments of pressure, they played more on the counter-attack. Oscar played on the left, with Eden Hazard on the right – Oscar skipped away from Pablo Zabaleta a couple of times and Hazard ran with the ball dangerously, but in the first half Chelsea couldn’t get Juan Mata involved in play.

Benitez asked Mata and Ba to drop back and prevent the centre-backs playing easy passes into Gareth Barry and Toure, keeping Chelsea compact – but often Chelsea found it difficult to get Mata into space at attacking transitions, as if he’d become overly concerned by his defensive¬†responsibilities.

Chelsea change

With City 2-0 up, the first significant tactical shift of the game came after 53 minutes – it was a very attacking shift, with Mikel removed, Oscar moving deeper, and Fernando Torres joining Demba Ba upfront.

Almost immediately, Chelsea got a goal back through Ba’s acrobatic effort. This was an interesting goal, coming so soon after Torres’ introduction – had hadn’t literally contributed anything to Ba’s strike, but much like Everton’s second goal in their 2-2 draw at Spurs last weekend, the presence of a second striker confused City’s backline and meant they no longer had a numerical advantage at the back. Had Torres not been on the pitch, City probably would have had two centre-backs both close to Ba, and the goal wouldn’t have happened.

From then, Chelsea dominated the game as City tired surprisingly early. Mancini removed Tevez and brought on Javi Garcia for extra numbers in midfield, moving Toure forward in support of Aguero – but the Argentine stopped contributing without the ball, while Toure’s forward runs were often followed by casual jogs back into position. Chelsea were able to build attacks with great freedom from the back.

They created a few decent chances from various routes, but a major feature was long balls over the top of the defence. Ba’s goal was an obvious example, but two key moments came from lofted Mata passes from central positions, very similar to the goal he created for Ba in the semi-final. First he launched a pass in behind Vincent Kompany that Torres couldn’t quite reach, then Torres was clumsily bundled over by Kompany from a very similar pass.

That prompted Mancini to remove Nasri and introduce Joleon Lescott as a third centre-back for added defensive protection, which summed up how Chelsea were threatening late on.

Conclusion

A cagey, tight tactical battle was expected between Benitez and Mancini – instead it was almost too open. City’s movement and combination play from the front four was extremely dangerous in the first half – although the final pass was so often lacking, with even Nasri’s opener coming after he’d initially tried to pass to Milner.

With less movement and¬†fluidity, Chelsea didn’t have those neat combinations – there was too much emphasis upon Mata to provide clever passes – which, in fairness, he very nearly did late on.


Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea: City start brightly but Chelsea rally late on

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