Match Review: Chelsea at Manchester City
Etihad Stadium | December 3rd, 2016
Since the beginning of this 8 - 0 winning run we have always looked at the next game as “the next big test”, in a way this will always be true because the road to May is long and continuity is key. But this was the test of all tests. Chelsea suited up with the 3-4-3 as usual but crucially, Matic was missing with a muscular injury and Fabregas started in his place. Chelsea’s magician had not started a game in the league since September and his defensive capabilities had left many wondering if he would feature for Conte’s 3-4-3. Conte had faith though, and that faith was repaid. Well about the game, Shall we?
For the early minutes of this game, it was clear both teams were drilled throughout the week and ready. Possession swung back and fort as both sides grew into the game. Chelsea attempted first and had a couple of decent chances through Eden Hazard but City also posed a constant threat and the game was very much in the balance until around the 28th minute. With both teams trying to impose their will, it was sloppy play and mistakes that would eventually hand over the initiative and it was Chelsea who buckled as the otherwise reliable Azpilicueta kneed an underweight ball that was too short for Courtois and too long for David Luiz but just perfect for Aguero who looked to capitalize until David Luiz did the minimum necessary to impede the striker’s progress. Nevertheless he did impede Aguero, time slowed down as both players and fans listened for the whistle and feared the colour of the coming card but there was none coming. This was the moment Man City knew they had the spring in their step, and Chelsea longed to see half time still level. It seemed the blues were going to get their wish but as was a recurring theme in this match, Man City exposed Marcos Alonso easily yet again, this time through Navas and the Spaniard’s pacy cross was turned in by Cahill inadvertently into his own net in an attempt to clear the ball. It was a terrible time to concede and the blues were up against it.
The second half began as the first finished. Man City were going for the kill. The home team created chance after chance, slicing their way through the mid-field and constantly leaving Marcos Alonso pale with horror. The left wing back simply could not keep up with the pace and physicality of Man City. A nervous back pass from him led to miscommunication between Courtois and Cahill and allowed Aguero to get on the ball only to see his shot blocked by Cahill and off Courtois for a corner kick. Sane who was troublesome all game drove past Chelsea’s midfield and played in De Bryune who failed to convert yet again. As Chelsea’s careless defending put City on the front foot in the first half, Man City’s ineffective attacks put Chelsea on the front foot in the second half. The defining moment was when Navas again broke free from Alonso’s attention to meet a through ball delivered by Silva, he then swung the ball across the box which left Chelsea’s defenders and goal keeper in a daze and met De Bryune, alone at the far post with all the goal to aim at and only 2 yards in front of him. Chelsea’s former young crashed his shot into the crossbar. Chelsea did not need another invitation to seize the initiative.
Chelsea stepped up and soon had reaped the rewards. Azpilicueta recycled the ball to Fabregas and with all the space and time Fabregas needs, the magician played the ball over the top of Man City’s defence with pin point accuracy to meet the run of Diego Costa. The veteran striker was took the ball expertly on his chest, tossed aside the feeble marking of Otamendi and with a deadly swing of the right boot, slotted home past Bravo, equalizing for Chelsea.
Perhaps this game would have ended a draw, but Man City dared to ask for more. Gudogan raided through Chelsea’s defence, but his fruitless effort led to a counter sequence.
One touch play from the defence put Hazard through and he in turn found Diego Costa. The best striker in England was too smart for Otamendi who tried to intercept the ball. He then picked up the run from Willian who was coming inside from wide right. The Brazilian would never be caught, approaching Bravo with the ferocity of mad man, the Man City goalie could only watch as Willian’s shot found the back of the net. Chelsea 2, Man City 1.
Pep Guardiola panicked, in search of a way back he took off Gundogan for Toure and Stones for Iheanacho. Chelsea took off Costa for Chalobah. Manchester City would not threaten again and in the 90th minute Chelsea sealed the deal through Eden Hazard. Iheanacho was stripped off the ball in Chelsea’s half and it fell to Alonso who then sent the ball over the top to Hazard. City’s back two had no chance as Hazard took the ball in his stride and roared towards Bravo who could do only hope as Chelsea’s wonder kid disguised his shot into the goal keeper’s near post. Game over.
They first key to understanding how Chelsea fared in this game is to think of Man City as an elite version of Tottenham, relentless pressing and pace, technical astuteness and the ability to execute wing play with aplomb. The next step is to realize how much Chelsea struggled against this sort of approach from Tottenham a week earlier, if the first half of last week was like a sun burn, this week’s was a baptism of fire. The penultimate key is to realize that Man City nevertheless have the defensive uncertainties that Tottenham do not have so there was always going to be multiple goal scoring chances created by Chelsea, but finally, and most importantly it is necessary to understand the solidity, resilience and mentality that Chelsea has under Antonio Conte. When the stakes have been raised the team has scaled much higher, against Middlesbrough it was tricky but we saw it off comfortably, against Tottenham it was dangerous but we came back and snatched all three points, against Man City today it was dire; drawing this game would have been impressive, winning was a wonder. Chelsea are wonderful.
At the end, fracas ensued as Aguero shed bitter tears. The league’s second best striker broke into insanity and attempted to deliberately break the legs of David Luiz. He was disgraceful all game, even taunting Gary Cahill for his own goal. The petulant striker had no penalties to pad his goal scoring stats and his frustrations only grew and grew and when it was clear there was nothing he could do, he shed tears. He received a straight red card for his troubles and will serve a 4 match ban because of a previous offence. The FA will do well to clamp down on this pattern of worrisome behaviour and Aguero will do well to learn class and composure from his opposite number Diego Costa.
Conte will be left with tough decisions to make, like what to do with Alonso, and although Fabregas did well today there is still a glaring need for another strong midfield option to deputize for Matic or Kante in the event that one or both of them are unavailable. Perhaps we will have answers in January when the transfer window opens. Talks of winning the title are gaining more momentum as we keep winning and there is no shying away from it now, we must keep this going. Next, Chelsea have West Brom at home next weekend and will be looking to take the chance to extend their lead at the top of the table.
Join us at LondonIsBluePodcast.com for a preview of that game in the coming days. TOP OF THE LEAGUE AND WE HAVE COSTA!