The meeting of the bookmakers two favourites for the Premiership title produced an excellent game that was ultimately decided by a clear goalkeeping error and not by any tactical decisions made by either of the two managers.
Mourinho brought back the fit again Ashley Cole into the team replacing Azpilicueta. Gary Cahill was favoured over David Luiz and Fernando Torres retained his position as the central striker with Samuel Eto’o on the bench. The attacking trio of Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar signalled Mourinho’s intention to counter attack.
The more interesting personnel choices were all made by Manuel Pellegrini. With Vincent Komapny still injured and Lescott seemingly out of favour, Pellegrini introduced Demichelis in central defence alongside Nastasic. Negredo was sacrificed with Javi Garcia moving into midfield and Yaya Toure playing further up the pitch, tasked with supporting Aguero.
City retained their usual 4-2-3-1 shape however.
In many ways, this game was easy to predict so far as it would play out. Chelsea would look to retain their shape and close down space before attacking City on the counter attack whilst City would enjoy more possession and gain more of a territorial advantage.
Although both managers would deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation, the interpretations of each system differed considerably. The graphic below shows the average player positions during the game:-
It’s immediately noticeable just how congested the central area of the pitch is. With Chelsea being stronger centrally, Pellegrini opted for a midfield containing Garcia, Fernandinho and Toure to help give them strength and supremacy in this area. As usual, Silva and Nasri would cut in field with Zabaleta and Clichy overlapping to offer width. A sharp contrast from Chelsea with Ivanovic and Cole especially having more conservative roles. As usual with Mourinho, his side sought to keep a stable defensive block allowing the more creative and attacking players a platform to build upon.
After a good opening from Chelsea, City took control of possession without really creating any clear chances. Aguero was isolated in attack and Chelsea were content to drop off, form a low block permitting City to play in front of them.
Chelsea created the best chances in the opening period with simple balls over the City defence. First Cahill volleyed over then Torres missed a far easier chance. Both occasions saw City appeal for offside. Pellegrini always favours an offside line held at the edge of the penalty area. The problem yesterday was nobody taking control of the defence in the absence of Kompany. For the Cahill volley, Fernandinho was deeper than Nastasic and Demechelis and played all opponents onside.
Despite Chelsea taking the lead, City continued to play in front of their hosts, unable to get in behind Chelsea and Aguero lacking adequate support. In the 41st minute, Zabaleta overlapped Nasri and his low cut back led to an Aguero shot that Cech saved but such instances were few and far between for City.
Terry vs Silva
The graphic below compares the passes made by Terry and Silva. Seems a little silly, doesn’t it? One is a central defender and the other is a creative attacking midfielder. Their one common denominator in this game was that they made the most passes for their team. Nothing unusual in Silva making the most passes but it would have seemed unusual before the game began to suggest the same for Terry:-
Given the approach of both teams, Terry making more passes seems perfectly sensible with hindsight. City opted to drop off Chelsea into a mid level block allowing both Cahill and Terry to have time in possession. Neither possess the passing ability or range of David Luiz and so will not offer a threat from a deep position.
Added to this, Chelsea were not really interested in building play. The plan was simple. To try and break quickly and get in behind City. This was demonstrated by the number of one on one take ons that Chelsea attempted in comparison to City. There was a lack of associative play from Chelsea as they tried to strike at City swiftly.
Individual vs Collective
Whereas City focused upon passing and associating play, the aim for Chelsea was to try to beat their opponent. This approach is shown in the number of one on one take ons in the graphic below:-
Chelsea repeaetedly attacked City in the wide areas with Garcia and Fernandinho forced wide to help provide defensive cover for Zabaleta and Clichy.
It was this type of driving run that brought about the first goal. Torres, collected the ball on the right, turned and drove past Clichy before cutting the ball back for Schurrle to open the scoring. Whilst the determination and speed of Torres should be commended, as should his mental resolve given his bad miss minutes earlier, the woeful defending by Clichy cannot go unmentioned. The full back permitted Torres to turn and run at him. Clichy provided the space which Torres took advantage of.
The equalising goal for City was a good example of the collective play. Silva and Nasri were both on the left handside of the pitch. Once Nasri had received the ball from Silva, his threaded pass forward found Aguero breaking into space behind Chelsea. The goal was powerful and arguably caught Cech off guard at his near post. City were now in the ascendency and created and spurned a number of chances in the following minutes.
Ashley Cole – Defence Over Attack
It’s difficult to recall Ashely Cole playing for Chelsea and not supplying at least one cross into the opposition penalty area yet that happned on Sunday. Cole played a largely defensive role with limited input into his side’s attacking potential. The full back made just 13 passes into the last third of the pitch albeit all found their intended target:-
The defensive nous of Cole largely dealt with the attacking intent of Zabaleta and City were relatively quiet on their right side with the majority of their play moving down their left side. The value of Cole has been questioned by some and whilst his attacking enthusiasm was curbed, his defensive play was excellent throughout.
As the second half progressed, the game opened up and became stretched yet it was City who looked far more dangerous on the counter attack than Chelsea with Fernandinho making surging runs forward to support colleagues in attack. The withdrawal of Nasri for Navas should have seen this reversal exacerbated. The idea was to see the winger stretch Chelsea on the counter but it never really occurred and City failed to see any benefit.
By this point Mourinho had made two changes, the most important of which saw Mikel take up the deeper midfield position liberating Ramires to push forward which he did to good effect I the closing stages. Chelsea looked more tired as they responded to transitions more slowly whereas City played with more vigour with one notable exception.
Pellegrini made one final change with Kolarov replacing Garcia, already cautioned, pushing Yaya Toure back into the pivot. Toure looked to be clearly flagging and was slow to close opponents down around the penalty area.
Proclamations that Fernando Torres is back may be a little premature. He has just 2 goals in his last 26 league games. It’s highly unlikely that he will ever recover to the same level that he operated at during his peak with Liverpool. For one thing, his pace has shaded since then. His performance on Sunday contained an obligatory easy chance missed but the mental resolve shown to continue seeking possession and take on opposition defenders despite his earlier mistake was impressive. Many players would have gone into hiding or seen a decline in confidence for a period. Torres remained focussed on the game. After providing the assist for Schurrle, Torres struck the woodwork after a powerful run forward.
A goal, an assist and some other key moments but was this really a performance worthy of the praise that he has received in some quarters? Probably not given he cost £50million. Rather, it’s an indication of how far he has fallen that he is now praised for his determination and aggression in his play. Whilst other aspects of his game have improved since his move to Chelsea, they have not developed sufficiently as to compensate for the reason he was purchased in the first instance; to score goals.
Having said that, this was a sound performance from Torres. His appetite and willingness to work, chasing lost causes received its reward at the end following Hart’s horrendous goalkeeping error. Worth considering how it was also another long ball down the field that caused problems for City too. If Torres doesn’t pursue that long ball forward, the game finishes as a draw.
Counting the Cost
There has been some criticism of Pellegrini for being too defensive. For replacing Negredo with another midfield player. This overlooks the form that Toure has previously shown he is capable of from a attacking midfield berth. Further, why should the onus be on City to show attacking intent? They were the away side. Criticism of Pellegrini is classic revisionism. If he walked away with a point, does he receive the same criticism? If Mourinho loses would he be criticised for setting up in a fashion entirely consistent with how he has traditionally set his sides out in key games?
How do you objectively assess the game?
Do you only consider the result? After all, that’s all that matters and Chelsea secured the three points. Or do you look beyond that and acknowledge how well City played for much of the game only to be undone by a terrible individual error?
Mourinho and Chelsea fans will be delighted to take the points and argue that this is all that matters. For Pellegrini and City, the performance cannot be overlooked irrespective of the final outcome. There was much to be positive about.