Chelsea versus Manchester City was probably the most anticipated match of the previous gameweek as the Premier League title defenders went head to head with the league table leaders at the Stamford Bridge.
The game certainly did not disappoint and ended in a 1-0 win for the Citizens. It was the former Chelsea player Kevin De Bruyne who scored for Pep Guardiola’s team.
I have to admit that I was one of the ‘Pep can only win with big teams’ squad. Now, I can easily say that I have been proven wrong and when Pep’s team is playing I make sure that I don’t miss it because it is a guaranteed satisfaction for any football fan.
The quality of Guardiola’s management was evident against Chelsea on Saturday and let me give an insight to his tactics.
Initially when the starting line-up graphic was shown before the game, it looked like City were going to play a 4-1-4-1 formation. Kyle Walker, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Fabian Delph forming the back four.
Brazilian defensive midfielder Fernandinho played just ahead of the defense. Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane played behind the inform Gabriel Jesus. However, this 4-1-4-1 formation does not mean anything as Guardiola wants his players to be fluid and able to easily switch positions.
The Spaniard’s game mainly revolves around two factors, possession and position. With players like David Silva and De Bruyne in the squad, keeping possession is not much of a problem for City.
What interests me the most is City’s position game. Pep divides the whole line-up into two blocks of five players each. One is the offensive block (which consists of De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Sane and Jesus) and the other is the defensive block (consisting of Fernandinho, Walker, Delph, Otamendi and Stones).
The Defensive block and Inverted full-backs
We know that the defensive block consists of five players – the fours defenders and one defensive midfielder. However, the way they position is something unique.
Guardiola uses his fullbacks as inverted fullbacks than just using them as normal fullbacks. The full backs do attack on the wings, but against Chelsea they mainly occupied inverted fullback positions.
Inverted fullbacks, instead of supporting the wingers on the flanks, get inside and plays more like central midfielders. On Saturday, Delph and Walker either played slightly ahead of Fernandinho or along with him. So in the defensive block, it was 2-1-2 formation.
Initially, when we came to know that Delph is playing at the left-back position ahead of Danilo it sounded bizarre. However, considering that Pep was using him as an inverted full-back it was not actually a bad idea. Delph really did well against Chelsea.
Chelsea played Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard upfront. The two forwards were dealt with by Stones and Otamendi with the help of Fernandinho. It was Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Tiemoune Bakayoko in the midfield for Antonio Conte’s men.
Kante and Fabregas played ahead of Bakayoko. Kante and Fabregas were marking Silva and De Bruyne initially, then Fabregas dropped for Bakayoko to take his role. However as they also to deal with the inverted full-backs, they ended up leaving Silva free.
Fabregas was also expected to be the main source of creativity for Chelsea, but as they did not have much wide options he was limited. Manchester City’s defensive form also played an important role in keeping Fabregas at bay.
Fernandinho closed spaces for the Spaniard to pass and as both Delph and Walker were positioned in the midfield, none of the Chelsea midfielders could find a way past the City’s defensive block.
This also meant that when there was a sudden Manchester City attack, Bakayoko and Kante were not in a good defensive position.
De Bruyne’s goal is the best example for it. The Belgian was ahead of both Kante and Bakayoko when he received the ball before going on to find the net. De Bruyne was the deepest lying player in City’s offensive block and the fact that he was ahead of Chelsea’s midfield tells us a lot about Pep’s tactics.
When De Bruyne got the goal, Silva and Jesus was in or just outside the box. Sane and Sterling was keeping the Chelsea wing backs occupied. This created a good amount of space for De Bruyne and he certainly took advantage of it.
Time and space
Another point to be noted is the amount of space and time Fernandinho got to make passes to the offensive block.
While Morata and Hazard closed down the City defense and while the Chelsea midfield tried hard to mark Silva, De Bruyne and the full-backs, Fernandinho was given lots of space and time. He is not a direct threat, but he was given all the time in the world to receive a pass from his defense, turn with the ball and find an attacking player in a good position.
In the second half, Fabregas tried to close space for Fernandinho to turn and pass. However, this meant that Fabregas had to leave space behind him.
These points mentioned above are only the key things that I noticed and thought was very important in the outcome of the game. I have not talked about how Sane and Sterling pressed the Chelsea defenders, while also closing the passing lanes to the wingbacks.
I have also not talked about the parts when Manchester City’s tactics did not always work. There are some things that I left, but I think the points mentioned in this articles is sufficient enough to prove Guardiola’s quality.
Written by Dakir Thanveer
Follow Dakir on Twitter @ZakWriter
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