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Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City: Champions Stopped at the Bridge

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The biggest clash of Premier League’s round 16 for the season was played at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea welcomed title holders Manchester City.

Despite a slight setback in the last game (2-1 defeat against Wolves), Chelsea are still having a much better season than many had predicted prior to its start as Antonio Conte was replaced by compatriot Maurizzio Sarri. On the other hand, Manchester City are on an absolute rampage through the league, having won 13 of the previous 15 games and drawn the other two, and only the perseverance of Liverpool prevents them from running away towards the second consecutive league trophy.

Team News

Having been rested midweek, centre-back David Luiz and midfielder Jorginho were both ready to return for the home side, as well as Ross Barkley who had been absent due to an ankle injury.

Kepa Arrizabalaga was in goal, with Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso making out the back four. Jorginho anchored the midfield, while N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovačić played further up. Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro Rodriguez formed a very fluid forward line.

Pep Guardiola in the away dugout had a few important names missing. Sergio Aguero was unavailable for a third game in a row, and Kevin De Bruyne still wasn’t ready to return. Oleksandr Zinchenko was a doubt.

Ederson Moraes stood between the posts. Kyle Walker, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Fabian Delph formed the defensive line. Fernandinho sat in front of them, with David Silva and Riyad Mahrez tasked with creativity in midfield. In the absence of Aguero, Guardiola chose Raheem Sterling to lead the line over Gabriel Jesus, with Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva on either side.

The First Half

As expected, Manchester City immediately tried to stamp their authority over the proceedings, but Chelsea weren’t going to let them have it all their own way. Sarri had obviously instructed his players to press their opponents high up the pitch and try and keep the ball for longer spells.

Naturally, that is never easy against a Guardiola team, and City weren’t losing their composure under pressure. It was clear from the start that this was going to be a high-quality contest, both in terms of tactical setup and the individual quality of the players.

City threatened first in the ninth minute after Fernandinho made an interception and released the run of Sterling through the middle. The former Liverpool attacker included David Silva on the left and got it back off him, but his subsequent shot, although from close range, failed to trouble Kepa.

Six minutes later Sane overcomplicated a good move and evenutally failed to get a shot off from seven or eight yards.

The visitors were tightening the noose, but Chelsea’s defending in their own box was very resilient and they slowly managed to get the battle front further from their goal for a while.

Interesting duels developed throughout the game. Walker and Alonso had their battles, and Kovačić had quite a few with Bernardo Silva. Jorginho’s pressing on Fernandinho was very interesting position-wise as the former Napoli midfielder played mostly ahead of the back four, but also pushing high up when putting pressure on the Brazil international. In those moments, both Kante and Kovačić would drop deeper to provide cover.

Chelsea’s biggest problem seemed to be the indifference and failure to get properly involved of Eden Hazard. The Belgian mostly stayed high up the pitch, and with City’s pressing very high and very well drilled, his teammates often failed to get the ball high enough to include him. On the rare occasion when they did, his first touch was poor enough for City players to pounce and dispossess him. Further more, his sloppiness and indifference seemed sometimes to be rubbing off on Willian whose link-up play left a lot to be desired.

In the 32nd minute, a fantastic piece of skill and an even better pass by Mahrez got Sane in a great chance inside the box, but Azpilicueta and Kepa stopped the former Schalke winger with a joint effort. Only a minute later Sane had another go after some great work by Sterling, but this time Azpilicueta dived infront of him and blocked his shot.

Sarri had an injury scare soon afterwards as a clash involving Luiz and Sterling left his defender on the ground, but Luiz recovered after receiving some medical assistance.

City certainly looked the better team, but for all their domination, Chelsea took the lead a minute before half-time. Pedro, who worked really hard throughout the game, brilliantly switched sides with a diagonal pass that gave Willian a lot of space down the left. Willian sent in a cross, City defence cleared it, but only as far as Alonso on the edge of the box. Alonso handed it to Hazard who had doubled up on that left flank, and Hazard squared it across the box. Sane failed to track the run of Kante, and the France international slammed the ball under the bar from the penalty spot, with Ederson unable to stop it. It was Chelsea’s first shot of the game.

1-0.

Against the run of play, perhaps, but the home team ended the first 45 minutes a goal up. It was a good example of the danger of letting your guard down for just a split-second, as well as a reminder of the quality of the Chelsea players, however outplayed they may have seemed before.

The Second Half

The visitors tried to respond straight from the start of the second period, but Chelsea caught them off guard with a swift counterattack and Willian earned a free-kick in a great position, 20 yards from the goal. He took it himself, forcing a very good save from Ederson.

Several minutes followed where Chelsea absolutely dominated Manchester City, forcing them onto some desperate defending. Willian came close again in the 52nd minute after Hazard and Kante did well to set him up, but his shot was surprisingly lame and easy for Ederson to deal with.

A minute later, Guardiola replaced Sane with Gabriel Jesus. Sterling now played on the left flank, Mahrez on the right.

Another 60 seconds later, Mahrez did what he does well on the right flank – cut inside and shoot, but Luiz made sure his head got in the way of the shot.

But City had recomposed themselves at this point and started playing in and around Chelsea’s box, in a manner that has become very recognizable since Guardiola took the reins. In the 57th minute, an inexplicable handball by Hazard infront of his own box gave Walker a chance to test his shooting skills, but Kepa made easy work of his effort.

But apart from that moment, Hazard was actually playing better after the break. He was playing more in the manner of a proper ‘false nine’, dropping deeper to pick the ball up and looking to engage runners on the flanks, as opposed to what he did for most of the fist half – stand isolated upfront.

There was a bit of tension in the 63rd minute. Kovačić went down injured, and Mahrez tried to take advantage of that and got himself aggressively mowed down by Jorginho. Both sets of players ran up and a scuffle broke out. Eventually, Jorginho got booked and Sarri was forced to replace Kovačić with Ross Barkley.

Five minutes later, David Silva complained of an injury too and made way for Ilkay Gundogan.

At this point, City turned the screw as hard as they could and Chelsea found themselves relentlessly attacked. Sterling seemed very inspired as he twisted and turned and kept entering the box with the ball at his feet, but the home team defended with focus and succeeded in breaking the siege again after a while.

Fifteen minutes from time, Willian made way for Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Hazard had now become a real thorn in City’s side. He employed all his skill, and managed to keep the ball and draw fouls in the opposition half, thus pushing their lines back. In the 77th minute, Barkley earned a corner with his shot getting deflected off Stones. Hazard took it, Luiz jumped highest and sent the ball where Ederson couldn’t reach it – a looping header towards the far top corner, grazing the underside of the crossbar on its way into the net.

2-0.

The champions were in a serious knockdown. They tried to play as usual, but it seemed they had nothing left in their arsenal that could possibly cause Chelsea any harm. They pressed well still and won possession relatively quickly, but when it came to the final third it seemed they relied more on the trickery of Sterling and Mahrez than the usual well-designed team moves.

With six minutes remaining, Mahrez made way for Phil Foden.

Chelsea could have added a third in the 86th minute as a well-aimed cross by Pedro found  Barkley high in the air, but the former Everton man failed to hit the target with a free header.

It was time for City to have one last go and they pushed forward hard. They conducted long and intricate attack, only for it to end with Fernandinho’s volley trickling wide.

At the stroke of time, Hazard made way for Olivier Giroud.

There were four minutes off added time, and Chlesea mostly looked comfortable as they slowly passed, but there was a big scare as Kepa misplaced a pass and gave the ball straight to Gundogan on the edge of the box. Gundogan gave it to Jesus who tried his luck, but Kepa redeemed himself with a good save.

The Afterthought

It was a very unusual game of football. For all of the possession of Manchester City, 60% of it, they created very little through the course of the contest, and overall, it cannot be said they didn’t deserve to get beaten. Extremely unusual for Guardiola’s team, but it only goes to show that no team is unbeatable.

As for Chelsea, it’s fair to say they’ve done a marvelous job. Sarri got his tactics spot on, and his players, although they took a while to get into it, eventually responded and carried out his instructions with success.

This result means there’s finally been a change at the top of the Premier League table. Having beaten Bournemouth at the Vitality by 0-4 earlier in the day, Liverpool have taken the lead over Manchester City, albeit by a single point. Chelsea found their way into the top four again, sitting in third, above Arsenal on goal-difference. However, Tottenham Hotspur may jump ahead both again if they beat Leicester City at the King Power Stadium later in the evening.

Match Report

CHELSEA: Kepa 7, Luiz 8.5, Rudiger 8, Azpilicueta 7.5, Alonso 7, Jorginho 7.5, Kante 7.5, Kovačić 7 (65′ Barkley 7.5), Willian 7 (75′ Loftus-Cheek 6), Hazard 7.5 (90′ Giroud N/A), Pedro 7.5.

MANCHESTER CITY: Ederson 6, Stones 7, Laporte 7, Walker 6.5, Delph 6, Fernandinho 7.5, D. Silva 6 (68′ Gundogan 7), Mahrez 7.5 (84′ Foden N/A), B. Silva 6, Sane 5.5 (63′ Jesus 7), Sterling 8.

MAN OF THE MATCH: David Luiz (Chelsea).

GOALS: Kante 45′, Luiz 78′.

YELLOW CARDS: Jorginho 63′, Pedro 80′.

REFEREE: Michael Oliver.

DATE & VENUE: December 8, 2018, Stamford Bridge, London.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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