Chelsea lose at home against title rivals Man City - Tactical Analysis

Man City high pressure frustrated Chelsea's conviction and limited their strengths. The Blues struggled to come out of their half and plan b didn't work either. City's display was the perfect representation of how to exploit time and space in modern football.

Chelsea lose at home against title rivals Man City - Tactical Analysis

EPL 2021/2022 GW6: Chelsea 0 - 1 Manchester City

Chelsea 0

Manchester City 1
(Gabriel Jesus 53)

It was another narrow victory, only this time for Manchester City. After the two teams faced each other in the last Uefa Champions League final, they met again on Saturday at Stamford Bridge. And this time, it was the Citizens who returned home with the three points. But there was much more than the scoreline would suggest.

Pep Guardiola's revenge against title contenders Chelsea stemmed from North London where The Blues played last week against Tottenham Hotspur. Nuno Espirito Santo showed the way and theorised how to beat Chelsea. Where Spurs' manager failed, Pep succeeded. He picked up on that idea, embraced and expanded their approach to trap Chelsea in their own half, forcing them to give the ball away and lose conviction.

City's display was the perfect representation of how to exploit time and space in modern football. Let's delve more deeply into how Chelsea shaped tactically and how City counter-reacted and exploited their weaknesses.

⚽ In Possession

In the game against Spurs, Thomas Tuchel spotted the shortcomings of playing with 2 central midfielders against a 3-men midfield. He addressed this flaw by introducing N'golo Kante who made an impact right off the bench to turn that game around.

Chelsea resumed from where they left last week and, also due to Mason Mount's absence, adopted a 3–5–2 system to match City's 3-men midfield. Timo Werner played alongside Romelu Lukaku to offer some pace and try to score on the break. The two wing-backs, Marcos Alonso and Reece James, didn't offer the usual attacking attitude for they were mostly limited on defensive duties and they were caught high up the pitch by City's pressure.

Chelsea planned to build up from deep. This was a real struggle for them. Guardiola's side pressed high, intensely and with discipline and the hosts weren't able to find a solution to bypass City's relentless initial line of pressure and retain the ball for longer spells of possession.

City's high line of pressure shortly after the start of the game (Image from ChelseaTV)

City's forwards put pressure on the centre-backs while Kevin De Bruyne tracked both Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic ready to contest who between the two would pick the initial pass.

The Citizens maintained the same pressure throughout the whole game (Image from ChelseaTV)

Long balls didn't provide the expected results either since Lukaku and Werner were fighting against too many opponents to be dangerous. The absence of someone to play between the lines made the link-up difficult for Chelsea's forwards with Kante and Kovacic mostly on defensive duties and too deep to connect with the two forwards.

Chelsea's forwards struggling to retain the ball (Image from ChelseaTV)

The Citizens forced Chelsea to commit mistakes, lose balls (80% pass completion percentage for The Blues) and disrupt their play. Tuchel's side spent most of the game on their back foot trying to score on the break but this approach didn't work out as expected. City recovered the ball in Chelsea's defensive third most of the time, they limited Alonso's attacking attitude and defended well on Lukaku when Chelsea decided to play long balls without much conviction.

⛔ Out Of Possession

The Blues didn't press too high and preferred to stay compact in a narrow 5-3-2 system.

City stretching Chelsea's defence wide and exploiting the half-spaces

City's wide forwards, Gabriel Jesus and Jack Grealish, forced Chelsea's wing-backs deep and wide. Kevin De Bryune and Phil Foden dropped deep to link up and drag centre backs out of position. To avoid Rodri to play in and through balls, Chelsea's midfielders stayed close. However the Spaniard was well pleased to find Bernardo Silva and Cancelo free from pressure in the half-spaces.

Bernardo Silva and Cancelo roaming in the half-spaces (Image from ChelseaTV)

Chelsea's defensive approach worked decently to screen the defence in the central channels and avoid exposure to central passing options but left a gap of space on either side of the Kovacic and Kante that City exploited to dictate the play. Bernardo Silva dropped deep on the right half-space where he was free to initiate the build-up, and Cancelo exploited the left flank to underlap and link up with Grealish.

Cancelo's runs on the flank were particularly dangerous. Shortly after the break, he exploited the space on the left flank and won the corner which lead to Jesus' winner. Then, after five minutes, he connected with Grealish who sent the ball wide and again, a few minutes later, when the Portuguese burst down the left and sent a cross into the box. Edouard Mendy tipped the ball away, only to find Jesus whose shot was saved by Thiago Silva off the line.

🔑 Key Factors

Man City energetic high pressure frustrated Chelsea's conviction and limited their strengths. The Blues struggled to come out of their half and plan b, long balls for Lukaku, didn't work either.

City's strategy stretched Chelsea defensive line wide to offer central space for De Bruyne and Foden to receive and link up. The Blues' narrow midfield served to limit central through balls but Cancelo and Bernardo Silva exploited the space in the pockets on either side of the central midfielders.

There aren't many sides that can press so high and implacably for the entire game so Chelsea are in a good shape. However, they seemed unbeatable and Pep showed how to beat them and he made it look relatively easy.


Chelsea: 16. Mendy, 28. Azpilicueta, 4. Christensen, 2. Rudiger,  24. James (6. Thiago Silva), 7. Kante (29. Havertz), 5. Jorginho (12. Loftus-Cheek), 8. Kovacic, 3. Alonso, 11. Werner, 9. Lukaku

Tottenham Hotspur: 31. Ederson, 2. Walker, 3. Dias, 14. Laporte, 27. Joao Cancelo, 20. Bernardo Silva, 16. Rodri, 17. De Bruyne (26. Mahrez), 10. Grealish (7. Sterling), 47. Foden (25. Fernandinho), 9. Jesus