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Charles’ latest “The Mind of Conte” column.
The game was the highlight of the weekend and it delivered.
It had all one could ask for: tactical as well as physical battles, uncertainty, controversy, and excitement.
Focusing on the tactical battle, let’s take a look at how the game unfolded.
City neutralize Chelsea in the wide areas
City setup exactly as Chelsea did, mirroring their 3-4-3 formation.
One of Chelsea’s main strengths in this system is the width provided by the wing-backs.
They have been able to overload defenses with their wide forwards combining with the wing-backs to create 2 vs 1 situations against opposing fullbacks.
In this game, Pep Guardiola was bold in playing two purely attacking wing-backs in Sane and Navas.
The thought behind this choice was to pin Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso down into their own camp, and it was successful.
De Bruyne and Navas constantly targeted Chelsea’s left side and exposed Cahill’s lack of pace.
During the opening thirty minutes, Azpilicueta on two occasions and Pedro on one instance, had to run across in order to cover for Cahill being beaten by the Belgian.
Moses and Alonso had a quiet game from an attacking perspective.
City’s high pressing game ensures midfield domination
From the start, City pressed Chelsea very high up the pitch.
Under Conte, the Blues have been comfortable building from the back, but City managed to disrupt their passing game.
Guardiola’s men’s pressing game was most intense in the first twenty five minutes, forcing Chelsea to either play long, or build up out wide rather than through the middle.
This took Fabregas and Kante out of the game for long periods, and established City’s complete domination in the middle of the park.
Otamendi frequently stepped into midfield to create a numerical advantage and consolidate City’s domination of the ball.
This went on throughout the first half; Chelsea however were threatening on the counter via Eden Hazard on a couple of occasions.
City’s efforts were rewarded seconds before half-time, courtesy of Jesus Navas’ cross mistakenly redirected passed Courtois by Gary Cahill.
Chelsea increase intensity and pressing
In second half, Chelsea came out of the blocks with much more intensity, battling City for every single ball in midfield.
Their high energy and quick passing game pushed City much further back into their camp than they had been during the first half.
This was crucial as it lead to Diego Costa’s equalizer. Around the 60th minute, with City’s pressing having moved back to the halfway line, Cesc Fabregas received the ball from Azpilicueta, and was able to pick out his Spanish teammate for a 46 yard assist.
Contrary to the first half, Cesc was afforded all the time in midfield to collect the ball in the build up phase, and play a direct pass to the Spanish striker without any sort of pressure.
Costa drops deeper to offer his ball holding abilities
Diego Costa has been the most complete striker in the league this season, and his second half vs City may just have been his best performance in a Chelsea shirt.
One expects the ideal striker to be quick, technical, strong, able to combine with other players, hold up the ball and be clinical.
Costa ticked all these boxes in the second half.
He dropped much deeper into midfield to become an outlet, for his defenders and midfielders. This allowed him to draw opposing defenders out of position, into advanced areas, receive the ball, hold it, then pass it to on-running forwards.
He was magnificent in that role as he seemed to attract no less than three defenders at any given time, which created space for the likes of Hazard and Willian to attack.
His ability to keep possession under pressure was excellent and his decision making was as impressive.
On the 70th minute, having received a pass from Hazard in transition, he drew Otamendi, John Stones and Kolarov out of position. With a clever turn, he ran a few yards before playing a through-ball for Willian to find himself one on one with Claudio Bravo and slot it home.
The whole move took twelve seconds and four passes to complete; the perfect counter attack.
The tactical battle between Pep and Conte was fascinating.
Two of the best coaches in Europe going head to head, lining up in the same formation, testing each other out.
Prior to the game, Conte was asked about similarities between his approach vs the Spaniard’s. His response was that while they both enjoyed playing with intensity and enjoyed ball possession, his approach with the ball was more direct.
This was clearly illustrated in this game as one of Chelsea’s goal stemmed from quick vertical build up, while the other two were a result of lightning quick transitions.
This is where the game was won ultimately, this is how Conte got the better of Pep.
Written by Charles Codo
Follow Charles on Twitter @soccerCrave
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