Chelsea go top as Manchester City stutter
They call it the Cashico, the modern day clash of the English titans. Both sides have come a long way in the Premier League, building priceless sides of talent scoured from all over the earth. winning titles, and hiring masterful tacticians to bring out the best of that talent is their philosophy. When the fans tuned in on Saturday, they were not disappointed. It was an epic clash that arguably put the later Classico to shame. The game was filled with drama, tactical brilliance, heartbreak, and triumph.
First things first, one fun game you can play before any Guardiola match is taking a look at his team sheet and trying to figure out what exactly City’s formation is. Manchester City’s defence is leaky lately, conceding in every game since October 29th. With Kompany out and John Stones still struggling to properly find his defensive footing, Pep stuck to what he knew. He turned to a plan of all-out attack from the first kick. The unplayable Aguero up top, supported by De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane and plenty of other talent in a terrifying 3-2-4-1 esqe formation. Such a team can absolutely decimate any defense. Spurs’ press a week ago was just a teaser for the merciless hunt for possession by Pep’s side. Such attack would have made short work out of any side. But Conte had other plans.
Much is being said about Conte’s transformation of Chelsea. They’re 7 wins in a row in the league since switching to the 3-4-3 and it has sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world. Nevertheless, many miss the small differences in each of the games. The formation and personnel may be largely intact but there are minor differences each time that make a world of difference. Against Man United Conte overloaded the wings to overwhelm with his relatively new formation. Against Spurs, he insisted on playing out the back to wear out a press he knew could not last. But for Manchester City, his choice was a master execution of the famous Italian style of ‘Catenaccio’. Chelsea sat relatively deep, soaking up the relentless City pressure, then in just one pass, set up a picture perfect counter attack.
Fabregas in, Matic out
Conte did not have access to Matic in this game, due to injury, so it is difficult to know whether Fabregas was chosen on purpose for this goal or by necessity. Whichever it was, he was essential to this win. He may lack the defensive capability and mobility of his partner Kante, but few on this earth can hit a long pass like Fabregas. As every Manchester City attack would fizzle out, Fa
bregas and Luiz would spray the ball across the pitch to Costa and Hazard and within seconds the City goal was in immediate danger.
Manchester City will rue the chances they wasted in this game more than anything. Pep could blame the referee for some of it, particularly for one chance where Luiz was the last man and brought down Aguero. The challenge was soft, but it could have just as easily led to Luiz being sent off. Ironically this would not be the last time there would be drama between Luiz and Aguero in this game. Manchester City continued to throw bodies forward and it started to become a question of not if Chelsea would concede but when. At the
Gary Cahill concedes an Own Goal
44th minute, the deadlock was broken. A Jesus Navas cross found its way to Gary Cahill’s foot in the air. It would be considered a world class finish had it not gone into his own net. Halftime almost seemed like a relief, as the City attackers driving forward would not stop.
The 2nd half was more of the same, as an endless onslaught of City attacks bombarded the Chelsea defence. There was so much quality in it that it was hard to believe Chelsea was only down one goal. However City was not clinical with the chances. Aguero wasted several good opportunities, but the worst miss of all came at the 56th minute. City spent much of the day overwhelming Chelsea’s left flank successfully, targeting Alonso. Gundogan shredded their defence with a single pass to Navas. Navas crossed it to De Bruyne who had a chance to end his former club’s winning streak. But it was not meant to be. He missed from 3 yards in front of goal, and the sight of Guardiola with both hands on his face said it all. Chelsea had begun to grow in confidence.
Costa makes it 1-1
Less than two minutes later, City gave Fabregas too much time on the ball and he made them pay with a beauty of a pass to Costa from his own half to Costa, who then made short work of Otamendi and Claudio Bravo. 1-1. Much like De Bruyne rattled the bar earlier, City were now rattled too. They continued to pile on the pressure but they were lacking the spark they had before the goal.
Willian puts Chelsea infront, 2-1!
Willian had come on for an injured Pedro and had been giving Chelsea a new burst of energy. At the 70th minute once again, a failed city attack led to Hazard getting the ball, passing it to Costa who had dropped deeper, who then delivered a through ball worthy of his fellow Spaniard Fabregas to Willian, who slotted it in to make it 2-1. Following the goal Willian and Luiz paid tribute to their fallen Brazilian brothers by holding up their black Chapecoense armbands.
Hazard makes it 3-1 to kill the game
Pep brought on more attackers to find his way back in but every attack appeared to just make Chelsea’s defense more stubborn. It had also left Manchester City’s backline more exposed than ever. At the 92nd minute Chelsea won the ball again in their own box and then just two passes and 10 seconds later, Hazard has scored another wonderful goal to make it 3-1. Conte’s gamble had paid off, simple direct football had put the result all beyond doubt. All 3 goals were clinically taken, and all 3 assists were from within Chelsea’s own half.
A fitting end
But the game’s biggest piece of drama had yet to be acted out. Perhaps frustrated by the missed chances, in the game’s closing minutes Sergio Aguero lunged at David Luiz in a horrific two legged tackle. A brawl almost erupted in the middle of the pitch as Chalobah attempted to stand up for his teammate, pushing down Aguero. Tensions were high, an altercation between Fabregas and Fernandinho resulted in Fabregas being pushed over a sign board. Fabregas and Chalobah were shown yellows. Aguero and Fernandinho shown immediate reds, leaving City without either for the next three league games that are sure to be critical to the title race. Whether you agree with the players’ actions or not, the game did prove to be entertaining.
Sergio Aguero’s red card.
Fernandinho’s red card.
Next week ?
Pep is now left to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do without the essential Fernandinho and Aguero. Conte is now riding high at the top of the league with 8 wins in a row. He has completely transformed Chelsea in the last few weeks, and it is difficult not to get excited for their title chances and wonder what comes next. Meanwhile, Manchester City are left to regroup after a sour loss.
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