Manchester City completed a deserved 3-0 victory over Chelsea. While the defending champions were not as bad as the scoreline suggests, the Citizens put in a well rounded performance to see them off.
City played with their 4-2-3-1 Manuel Pellegrini opted to field Sergio Aguero in his starting lineup, despite concerns over his fitness after a late return from the Copa America, leaving Wilfriend Bony on the bench. Pablo Zabaleta, the other Copa America man was left on the bench. Understandably- the Argentine right back is known to struggle against Eden Hazard. Bacary Sagna retained his place.
Mourinho played a 4-2-3-1 as expected, dropping Oscar for Ramires. But not everything was as expected. Ramires lined up on the right of attacking midfield, while Willian stayed on the left. Fabregas had his favored defensive midfield role.
Elsewhere, Asmir Begovic came in for the suspended Thibaut Courtois.
Mourinho Sets Out Balanced Chelsea
Mourinho’s template in big games usually consists of pairing Nemanja Matic with the energetic Ramires in defensive midfield. Cesc Fabregas is pushed up into a number 10 role, with Oscar moving to the bench. This ensures stability in defense. Ramires is not a visionary like Fabregas, but has the stamina and physicality to cover the back 4. Of course this move has its disadvantages. Fabregas sees less of the ball. A lot less. Chelsea’s attacking threat is usually blunted.
As mentioned before the Special One made some changes to the side that he usually sets out. The personnel were the same, but positions were not. Ramires played out wide on the right. Fabregas retained his deep role alongside Matic. Ramires was tasked with shuttling along his touchline and giving assistance to Ivanovic and Fabregas. Chelsea weren’t extremely attack-oriented, but they had more cover at the back. In theory, balanced.
City Look For Width To Hurt Chelsea
With Pellegrini abandoning his much famed-come-criticized 4-4-2, his 4-2-3-1 is the new order of the day. Expecting to face a watertight Chelsea defense, Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas were key in City’s attempts to stretch the London club. Especially against 2 world class full backs.
How did the full backs cope? Sterling’s pace meant that he was always going to get Branislav Ivanovic’s attention, although the youngster can be faulted for failing to make the most of it. It was Alexander Kolarov’s runs forward that really tested Ivanovic. No goal came of it though, and Ramires eventually helped blunt this threat.
Jesus Navas on the other hand used his speed well. Continuously testing Cesar Azpilicueta, there were times when it looked like the Spaniard was their biggest threat going forward. But it wasn’t one way traffic. Azpilicueta managed to stave off the Navas threat, even pushing him back during Chelsea’s lone dominant spell in the first half (and got much better during the second half).
Regardless, City’s newfound width helped. That is for sure. For it gave more time and space to David Silva.
Silva Makes Most of Fabregas’ Deep Positioning
David Silva’s start to the season has been nothing short of fantastic. His ability on the ball makes him more than a genuine threat. Starting off at the left and drifting in to the center, it was the Spaniard who exploited Fabregas’ positioning more than anyone. Fabregas is a great playmaker, but is no destroyer in midfield. (To term this as ‘indiscipline’ is somewhat unfair to this creative talent. Rather, it is a consequence of his playing style.)
All in all, Silva was quick to spot this opportunity, making the most of it. Coupled with a 4-2-3-1 that plays to his strengths, Silva was in reality City’s biggest threat in the first half.
Exemplified in the opening stages, when City pressed Chelsea heavily, Silva was given lots of time on the ball. He, coupled with Sergio Aguero‘s intelligence, left Chelsea looking weak at the back. Mourinho eventually called Ramires further back to deal with this threat. Thus making the team a 4-3-2-1 at times off the ball. It helped that a strong focal point in attack, Sergio Aguero, was playing. This is best shown by Aguero’s opportunity in the opening minute.
Pellegrini Gamble With Aguero Pays Off
Playing a forward who might not be fully fit is always a risk. Especially if this forward of yours is injury prone. Thats precisely what Manuel Pellegrini did, and his striker repaid his faith.
Aguero consistently troubled the Chelsea center backs. His pace and runs, to be precise. John Terry in particular struggled against the Argentine striker, showcased by the 5 chances Aguero had in the first half. Terry simply couldn’t keep up. In this way, Pellegrini really looked to exploit Chelsea’s center halves. Wilfried Bony carried less risk of injury and superior fitness, but was less likely to win an aerial duel.
Gary Cahill is no turtle, but he didn’t have the pace to compensate for Terry’s weakness. Only Asmir Begovic’s brilliance kept the former Atletico Madrid man at bay. Until his well taken goal.
While Chelsea’s more adventurous set up was better in entertainment terms, the Silva-Aguero duo took Mourinho’s back 4 to the cleaners in the first half. The first half an hour especially saw City’s superior fitness levels work their magic. Ramires played deeper as the game wore on though, as Chelsea moved to half time 1-0 down.
Half Time Changes Bring Chelsea Back
Mourinho always has a plan B. He identified Chelsea’s major weakness instantly. Kurt Zouma, the fastest center-half in the squad, replaced skipper John Terry. Ramires burst his lungs for the cause, working hard on and off the ball. Full backs joined the attack to provide width. Chelsea then summoned their strength to press.
To an extent, it did stifle City. Aguero’s influence waned as the match went on, as Zouma’s robustness and his own fitness took their toll.
Chelsea Dominate, Fail To Score
The first 25 minutes of the first half saw Chelsea dominate at the Etihad. But for a variety of reasons, they didn’t make it count.
It was here that City’s all roundedness saved them- Vincent Kompany and Elaquim Mangala managed to tame Diego Costa for the majority of the match. He had no opportunities to score.
Fernandinho and Yaya Toure rekindled their largely successful partnership of the 2013-14 season. The former played destructor in chief, while the latter rediscovered some of the hustle that made him a one man midfield. The dynamic duo crucially pushed Cesc Fabregas out of the game, limiting his creativity with their physicality. Fernandinho also wound up Diego Costa, albeit unfairly.
With the central areas well reinforced by City, attention turned to the wings. A place where City also looked to hurt Chelsea. But Chelsea’s full backs couldn’t provide enough going forward. Ivanovic stayed extremely deep, worrying for the pace of Raheem Sterling. Azpilicueta isn’t much of an attacker, although he did expose City at times.
To top it off, Chelsea didn’t take the chance (s) they had. Eden Hazard had the best chance of the match for his side, but gave Joe Hart a straightforward save. It was here that Sergio Aguero made a big difference, in taking his chance.
City’s Superior Fitness Enables Them To Kill off Game
The administration at Stamford Bridge decided to give the Blues squad additional time off ahead of the new season. Its well documented that Mourinho was expecting a slow start to the season as a result. Chelsea would take longer to gain full match fitness.
The result? Both of City’s goals were the result of individual errors from Chelsea. A rarity. Branislav Ivanovic that too. As time went on, concentration lapses should have been expected due to the players’ physical state. Once more, City used this to their advantage.
City were the better team– they were in form, fit and could sustain their bouts of pressure. Yaya Toure looks to be firing on more cylinders and the change in formation has done them wonders. For now at least. Manuel Pellegrini’s calculated risks worked in his favor, and City have a strong lead this early in the season. 8 shots on target to 3 by the visitors speak for themselves.
While Chelsea were set up decently, Manchester City really took advantage of their tactical and physical weaknesses. They exploited Fabregas’ positioning, the center back pairing’s pace and their overall advantage from a fitness standpoint played to their favor.
What about the defending champions? Chelsea could use an additional midfielder. To be fair, it isn’t all in the administrations hands. Not all clubs can reject a 65 million bid for their star midfielder (or one of them, as Koke is). But Chelsea could really use another midfielder to give them variance. A new attacking threat, more than anything. James Rodriguez, Isco, Blaise Matuidi, Arda Turan, Arturo Vidal . Most names have been captured already or won’t budge from their clubs. But if the champions want to win again, a new acquisition is a must. And they need to leave their preseason slump behind them. It isn’t everyday that Branislav Ivanovic makes high profile errors.