The second round of Premier League fixtures saw the two top teams from 2014/15 face off, as Chelsea visited Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. Jose Mourinho played down the importance of the match prior to the weekend, but the game would provide an interesting analysis opportunity for gauging the capabilities of both teams for the new season.
Manchester City dominated the first half, and Chelsea were unable to control the game. Generally, Mourinho teams are able to control the game without the ball by forcing the opposition away from dangerous areas. But this time Chelsea’s midfield had several issues that created more problems elsewhere.
Fabregas deep in midfield
Mourinho’s general approach to big games is to utilise a more defensive-minded central midfielder than Fabregas, alongside Matic. At times it seemed as if Fabregas was not even there; he was easily dribbled past by the likes of Sterling, Silva & Yaya Toure. This created a dangerous opportunity only moments into the game.
00:15: Chelsea are seemingly well-covered defensively from the kick-off
00:18: Silva saunters past Fabregas and suddenly Aguero is in. It takes an uncharacteristically poor finish from Aguero for Chelsea to remain level.
Aside from the numerous occasions throughout the game where Fabregas was dribbled past, there were also other facets of his game that helped to destabilized Chelsea’s defense. You can occasionally make up for poor on-ball defending if your positioning is so good that you can make interceptions instead of tackles, but Fabregas was often out of position too.
77:11: Where’s Cesc? David Silva says “thank you very much”.
And David Silva wasn’t the only Manchester City player to benefit from the space Fabregas offered. Raheem Sterling’s off-ball movement was often pivotal in allowing City to create space by dragging Fabregas away.
15:14: Matic presses Silva, whilst Sterling makes a run into the middle, attracting the attention of Fabregas.
15:23: City switch the play, and Ramires has to push forward onto Fernandinho as Fabregas is slow to shift across. This leaves Kolarov free for yet another potent delivery, and Aguero gets a low shot away. Begovic saves well.
Sterling doesn’t touch the ball once during this play. But his movement allowed City to quickly circulate the ball to Kolarov and get the ball into Aguero in a dangerous area.
This was one of a number of things that Sterling excelled at throughout the game. Despite being fairly quiet on the ball, he did the smaller things well that allowed David Silva to flourish centrally. Most young wingers tend to only be comfortable dribbling when facing the opposition defender face-on, but Sterling is able to use his surprising strength to turn well.
As well as this, he gave City the option to quickly re-circulate possession from right to left and take Ivanovic on 1v1, or utilise the overlapping Kolarov if Ramires was slow to track back, which he was on several occasions.
But perhaps most importantly is his threat in transition. Sterling was part of the 2013/14 Liverpool team that was deadly in transition, and he offers a similar threat for Manchester City.
Sterling is more than happy to drift in off his line in transition, in order to find pockets of space. In this instance (03:45), Silva makes an intelligent run to draw Matic away, and Sterling receives the ball with space to run into.
For the 2014/15 season, only three Premier League teams had a lower percentage of their open-play shots from ‘fast’ attacks than Manchester City. They are a deliberately slow team who look to open up the opposition defense when they’ve deepened. This has partly been strategically, but also due to a lack of personnel; Jesus Navas is one of the few direct attacking midfielders Manchester City have, and he prefers to operate in wide areas.
The combination play with Kolarov also allowed City to exploit Fabregas’ poor defensive abilities and focus their efforts on attacking Chelsea’s right.
Playing in a double pivot with Cesc Fabregas is not easy because he leaves so much space that his partner is expected to cover. But despite this, some of Matic’s flaws were magnified.
He has two main issues; the first of which is that is his defensive technique in the tackle. Because of his long legs, Matic prefers to face the opposition rather than stand side-on, as is the norm in top-level football.
36:07: Once Jesus Navas races past Willian, Matic squats face-on, ready to move either side quickly. But once Navas advances past him, Matic’s positioning means he has no hope of catching him. It takes a long time for the Serbian to catch up with play.
This tends to happen a fair amount in transition; Mourinho’s team would benefit if Matic’s partner was capable of tracking runners in transition (ie. not Fabregas).
The second of Matic’s defensive issues is that he is over-aggressive in defensive phases. This often comes when he is man-marking or approaching the opposition player that carries the ball.
74:05: Matic does well to cover for Azpilicueta in a defensive transition, but instead of merely shepherding the Man City player, he commits to the tackle. This means it is a 2v1, and when the ball is passed out and Silva turns Fabregas, Chelsea have major issues in the centre of the pitch. At this point, Ramires has been subbed off, and Cuadrado covers better than the Brazilian did to ensure Sterling is not allowed to take on Ivanovic 1v1.
77:37: Toure wanders away from his midfield role, and Matic become transfixed with getting tight and not allowing him to turn. But Matic needed to realise that Toure’s field of vision was poor, with his back to the goal. The more dangerous pass was to Sterling, who can see the entire play. Toure releases the ball to Sterling with his first touch and Matic leaves a big space behind him that City can exploit with the dangerous 4v3.
These issues combined to leave Chelsea’s central defenders with big trouble. It’s hard enough to deal with the movement & agility of Sergio Aguero even when you do have protection. But on a number of occasions, Aguero was able to isolate 1v1 on John Terry. Not good for Mourinho and Chelsea (or John Terry’s career).
00:18: A footrace: Aguero vs. Terry: who wins that one…?
20:50: Chelsea look for numerical superiority around the ball, but this leaves a dangerous Aguero/Terry 1v1 inside the box. Aguero’s agility & constant movements makes it very difficult for even two central defenders to monitor his runs, let alone just one [34 year old].
Aguero’s movement was a feature of the first-half, where he created a number of opportunities for himself. Despite missing some promising chances, these were the type of shots that most strikers would not even be able to create against Chelsea. Four shots on target against Chelsea in half an hour of football is almost unheard of for an individual player.
City’s defensive strength
As mentioned previously, City’s attackers and their exploitation of Chelsea’s midfield were the key to the first half dominance. David Silva ran the game, with Sergio Aguero at his troublesome best and Raheem Sterling frequently creating problems for Chelsea. But two of City’s defenders made strong claims for Man of the Match.
With the focus on attacking Chelsea’s right, Kolarov was tasked with overlapping Sterling when he cut inside. This worked extremely well and a number of driven passes created chances for Aguero.
Then there was Vincent Kompany. Unfairly criticsed for his 2014/15 season, teh Belgian received very little protection from his midfield throughout the season. This was not hugely dissimilar against Chelsea. But Kompany returned to his best in 1v1s against the physical threat of Diego Costa.
Throughout the whole match, there was only one occasion the two were at major fault.
69:25: A dangerous Chelsea transition. Kolarov is too far forward to reach Hazard, and ends up trying to tackle him but failing. Kompany has the opportunity to halt the transition but Costa is able to cut back and pass to Hazard, who should score.
Man City had dominated the game, and 1-1 at that point would’ve been unfair. But were Eden Hazard at his best, that could’ve been the case.
Conclusion: Ivanovic takes it from 1-0 to 3-0
After a horrid week against Jefferson Montero & Swansea City, Ivanovic needed to bounce back. But he made two individual errors in the second half for the two Manchester City goals. Firstly he was outmuscled by Kompany from a corner, and then gave the ball away for Fernandinho’s goal.
With the signing of Abdul Baba, perhaps Azpilicueta may shift back to right back, with the new man occupying the left back role.
These mistakes were why Mourinho suggested the result was “fake”. But the scoreline could’ve reached 3-0 during City’s dominant first half performance.
It remains to be seen why Chelsea made no major signings over the Summer. Matic is far from the typical Mourinho defensive midfielder, and Fabregas offers little defensive protection. Their partnership and man-oriented approach seems to vastly differ from what we’ve come to expect from a Mourinho team.
Morgan Schneiderlin seemed perfect to place alongside Nemanja Matic for big games, but he was allowed to move to Manchester United. There is still time for Chelsea to resurrect these problems. But if they don’t, the big matches may become a struggle for a team who pride themselves upon taking points from those games.