Thursday, 11.04.2024

Manchester City – Chelsea 3:0

Manchester City’s forwards shared the star roles in the Premier League’s first Holywood fixture of the 2015/16 season while Chelsea’s defence were poorer than they Eva have been before.

Both coaches had pretty much a full compliment of players to choose from and they both played variants of a 4-2-3-1 formation.

city chelsea

The starting line-ups.

Matic is the Key…

…and when they key doesn’t work, you can’t lock the door. The Chelsea double pivot of Matic and Fabregas, although especially Matic as he is the more defensive influence of the two, were given two vital roles. Firstly, to fill in the channels between fullback and centre-back when Chelsea’s fullbacks were inevitably pulled wide due to Manchester City’s expansive attacking system that uses most of the width of the pitch. And secondly, to look out for and track the Magician of Manchester, David Silva.

Despite the poor performances of all of the five defenders Chelsea fielded (Zouma replaced Terry at half-time) over the course of the match (especially Cahill and Ivanovic), it was Matic and Fabregas’ play that gave Manchester City so many chances. The problem wasn’t that the pair didn’t follow said instructions, however it was the instructions themselves were that the problem, a problem that caused Matic to give up his main responsibility of protecting the space in front of Chelsea’s centre-backs.

Below we have have an example of Matic’s role of tracking David Silva causing Chelsea problems. Matic is initially covering a very good space on the edge of his own penalty area as Kolarov has the ball on City’s left wing. Fabregas is in the halfspace covering the channel between Ivanovic and Cahill, as was organised. A clever Silva decoy run between the Chelsea centre-backs pulls Matic away with him and leaves a large area for Sergio Aguero to drop off Cahill, collect the cross from Kolarov, turn and register a shot on target.



Silva pulls Matic out of position

This time, City are counter attacking and instead of running into the space in front of Chelsea’s centre-backs, Matic stays in the halfspace, looking to cover the channel between Azpilicueta and Terry while also keeping an eye on Silva. This allows Aguero to, again, shake off Cahill and get into key space central space in front of Chelsea’s centre-backs and get another shot on target.


Another Aguero chance.

Below we have another example. Here, Matic is unnecessarily in the small channel between Azpilicueta and Navas, while Fabregas has been pulled away by a Silva run. Navas simply pulls it back to Aguero who has a crazy amount of space to set a shot which just misses Begovic’s left post.

aguero near miss

Aguero shoots wide this time.

It was this non-coverage of the important space in front of Chelsea’s centre backs which was at least in part to blame for Manchester City’s opening goal. Terry is caught having to press Silva while Matic sensibly drops in to cover him. However, for some reason Fabregas moves into the channel meaning both of Chelsea’s makeshift double pivot (Terry+Fabregas) are in the same halfspace, leaving a big space in the centre. Toure drops off Matic who this time can only blame himself (rather than anything systematic) for losing concentration. Toure and Aguero combine and the Argentine to slides a finish past Chelsea’s back-up ‘keeper and into the net.

aguero goal-notice buffering

1-0 to City. Also, notice the nice 2v2 situation city have created with Toure and Aguero, Navas’ width which stretches the Chelsea defence, Sterlings infield position which opens up potential space for Kolarov on City’s left-hand side and finally the fantastic positioning of Sagna, Fernandinho and Kolarov to enable City to regain possession if Chelsea clear as well as blocking potential Chelsea counter-attacks.

I’m being careful not to fall into the stereotype of the typical British pundit who blames individual defensive errors instead of a flawed system for a loss however I would say that individual mistakes and lack of common sense combined with poor instructions from Mourinho lead to Man City enjoying so many chances, especially in the first half.

City’s left side orientation

Just twenty seconds into the match, David Silva played a wonderful through ball down City’s left halfspace to Aguero who disappointingly shot straight at Asmir Begovic. It was a sign of things to come both in the sense of City’s domination but also the fact they had used the left side of the field to exploit Chelsea’s trio of Ivanovic, Cahill and Fabregas. These three are defensively inferior to Terry, Matic and Azpilicueta on Chelsea’s left half of their defensive block. Also, it gave City a chance to show off their new £49m signing who had a Sterling performance, embarrassing Ivanovic on a few occasions, and allowing them to use David Silva on his favoured left side of the pitch.

man city heatmap

City’s overall heatmap.

sterling and silva

Raheem Sterling and David Slva’s combined heatmap.








Below is City’s left side overload of the field which they would use in three ways: firstly, to give the ball to Kolarov or Sterling who would have time to cross or dribble in behind Ivanovic. Secondly, Play in Aguero, Sterling or Silva in the channel between Cahill and Ivanovic. Or thirdly, as we have seen they use it to attract Chelsea’s double pivot away from the centre of the pitch, before playing the ball into Aguero in this area.

Note that normally Ramires, or later on Cuadrado would move back and position themselves to the right of Ivanovic as well as Silva obviously normally being further infield than Sterling rather than the other way around. However, if you take the former of those two factors into account, City would still have a 4v3 overload in the area I have outlines.

man city left side overload

Manchester City left side overload. Matic is in a good position! Aguero pinning Ivanovic in the halfspace–stopping him going towards the ball/closing down Kolarov.

Another reason for attacking down this side of the pitch, is that it makes it more difficult for Chelsea to counter attack through their main threat, Eden Hazard, should they win the ball.

City also set out to exploit this side of the field in the defensive phase too. Neither side, as is the nature of the Premier League, did much front line pressing in the match although City did, at times, look to isolate and expose Chelsea’s less able passers down this side–Ramires and Ivanovic. Below is an example.

city wide press

City isolate Ramires on the touchline in the 61st minute.


Chelsea’s issues going forward

Chelsea played with an interchanging attacking midfield three of Hazard, Willian and Ramires. Hazard had long spells playing in the centre of the pitch while Willian dropped deeper or played to the left. The two ‘wingers’ generally spent most of the match in the halfspaces with the aim of Hazard or Willian finding the fairly large space behind Toure and Fernandinho but they didn’t manage to do this often enough.

The full-backs rarely pushed up enough to give Chelsea any considerable width. Mourinho was obviously concerned about defensive transitions and not leaving Chelsea to open to counter attack, citing this as his reason to replace Terry with Zouma at half-time (a decision which paid off to a small extent as Aguero didn’t get a shot on target all second half and City not being too devastating on the counter attack.

Despite this, the decision not to play Hazard very wide on the left, somewhere he could have given Bacary Sagna nightmares for months, was strange. The Belgian only managed two successful take-ons in the game. It looked as if Juan Cuadrado would give Chelsea some width when he came on in the sixty-fourth minute however he infuriatingly was given some sort of pseudo-left wingback role and spent a lot of his spell on the pitch in a back five helping Branislav Ivanovic deal with Sterling and Kolarov.

In general, Chelsea were just horribly static off-the ball when they had possession in City’s half and didn’t offer much threat other than a couple of promising moments when Hazard and Costa combined.


A dreadful start to the season for Jose Mourinho. The decorated coach now has to be very careful not to turn his charisma into egotistical madness as arguably the main reason for his success as a coach is the his players adore him and will happily live and die by him. John Terry didn’t looked best pleased to be substituted at half-time and Jose could start to lose the dressing room, not just the treatment room. I think signing a forward as well as a full-back would be ideal for Chelsea.

On the other hand, Pellegrini will be pretty delighted with his Man City side who now have an added element of danger, especially on the counter attack, in Raheem Sterling. One area which they may wish to improve is their intensity in central midfield as Silva doesn’t offer much defensively and Toure + Fernandinho don’t offer much pressing coverage (Fabregas had the most touches of anyone on the field, 100, and Matic had the most dribbles, 8).

ppsoccer August 20, 2015 um 3:54 pm

Great write up. Thanks for the awesome work you have done 🙂

Late comment, but I have a question and would like to hear your opinion. Regarding how Chelsea were “horribly static off-the ball”, I was wondering while watching the match, were they even trying to attack at all?

As mentioned by your analysis as well, they were probably concerned about defensive transitions. However I feel as if there were more to it, because in the first half I felt all Chelsea were doing was passing the ball safely and trying to draw fouls.

I remember a few years back when Mourinho made this comment, “It was our plan to keep a clean sheet and start attacking when the opposition was getting frustrated. It was our plan to replace Lassana Diarra with Kaka for the final 25 minutes of the game, but we had to change our plans because of the red card.”(source:

Do you think he originally might have wanted to do something similar in this match? Perhaps due to the fact that City were at home, and is a very offensive minded team in general, so Mou felt they might become impatient if they couldn’t score after extended periods in the game.


TT August 24, 2015 um 12:18 pm

Thanks for the nice words.
Obviously Mourinho is well-known for being defensive, especially in matches such against very good opposition. The performance vs City wasn’t particularly defensive (think Inter vs Barca) and the commitment to bodies high up the field wasn’t bad either when they had possession. I think Chelsea generally struggled as City’s defence played pretty well and Chelsea don’t work on attacking schemes enough, especially before playing at the Etihad, to break open a well-organised defence. For example, a ten-man PSG side flummoxed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier this year because of their superb organisation.


Hachi August 18, 2015 um 7:22 am

I have some questions.

Does Chelsea defend too wide?
What are the disavantages of defending narrow against the not tall City attacking player?


TT August 18, 2015 um 10:05 am

Chelsea’s compactness isn’t dreadful however their system dictates that their fullback will go to pressurise the man on the ball in wide areas while one of the number 6s drops in. Chelsea’s defence was pretty good last season and I don’t think they should change just based on one defeat.
Defending narrow wouldn’t be ideal vs City because of Sterling and Navas’ (especially Sterling though) ability and if you defend narrow then those players can be allowed closer to goal. Plus, Silva can be effective at switching play which could exploit a narrow defence.


Hachi August 18, 2015 um 4:18 pm

They will be closer to goal but isn’t the space will be less?
Can you explain why switching play (Switching play=move ball from one flank to another??) will exploit the narrowness. I thought that being narrow means that you don’t move horizontally much so even if they switch flank you just stay in the middle where you are.
Sorry if I ask stupid question. I’m new to this thing maybe I understand tactical words wrong.


TT August 18, 2015 um 5:46 pm

Normally a narrow or ‘horizontally compact’ (look under the tactical theory section) defence will keep as small distance as possible between right back and left back and will shuffle from side to side depending on the side of the ball, thus leaving space on the opposite side to the ball (unless they have a winger dropping in to make a back five).


Faisal August 18, 2015 um 6:03 am

City had more variety in attack than Chelsea. Chelsea were too dependent on Hazard and city easily forced him into uncomfortable situations where he was ineffective. He did have an amazing chance though after a good Chelsea counter-attack (probably only good thing they did) and didn’t score, with Joe Hart making a good save. If you look at City, I remember early on in the game there was a switch to Navas who used his energy and pace to get a shot in. This confused Chelsea and they were too worried about defending both sides that they lost all balance in defense, add Fabregas’s poor defensive positioning.

I have a question for you as well.

Do you feel City can do well in the Champions League this season? I still feel a certain amount of defensive pressing is to be improved, as with most premier league sides. They allowed Chelsea to have some of the ball, and if it were a Real, Barca, Juve, PSG or Bayern they would’ve paid for that.

Anyways, awesome analysis as usual for this site 🙂


TT August 18, 2015 um 10:00 am

Thanks Faisal! In regards to your question, yes I do feel that Premier League clubs do struggle in Europe due to some tactical aspects such as pressing as well as things like not having a winter break. Despite this, yes I do think they can reach the semi-finals and would maybe have done in previous years had they not met Barcelona in knockout stages and Bayern in group stages.


kpltactics August 17, 2015 um 5:35 pm

I agree that Chelsea’s weakness is a wide outlet on the attack. I believe structurally they can be one of the most organized in the World and I still have confidence that this team is champions league semifinal elite. They do need a threat to stretch opposite of Hazard and be able to diagonally move into scoring positions.
Otherwise this Chelsea crisis or Mourinho’s “third season” (we’ve seen it twice) is overstated.
City will bask in this abnormal result or even fake but I don’t see any difference from them other than the fact that Sterling is going to give then greater scoring nous in the league. This is still the team that has barely won its twin league titles.
Let the league settle then we can make tactical projections otherwise it was a result independent of things.


TT August 17, 2015 um 6:04 pm

I agree with your points but if you didn’t know who either team was yesterday you would’ve thought it was a title candidate vs a relegation candidate. A difference in class going forward.


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