Manchester City: For Lack of a Better Title
Three different interviews after the win against Chelsea and there’s one common word from Pep Guardiola. “Deserved”
He grinned like a child getting praised by his parents when the BT reporter asked him if he felt that the win was “well deserved”. Pep’s answer? “Absolutely……absolutely.”
This season however the tables have turned and in two league games, Manchester City totally dominated Chelsea. “180 minutes against the European champion, we concede 1 shoot on target from (Romelu) Lukaku” Pep told the journalist in the post match press conference.
Once again, Chelsea failed to build up through City’s press which was pretty similar to the one used at Stamford Bridge. Add to that, City’s electric counter-pressing once they lost the ball and the task for Chelsea just kept getting harder and harder.
The pressure City created when Chelsea had the ball was only half of the suffering, the other half was when City were in possession.
From the offset it was noticeable how lopsided City’s triangle in midfield was, Bernardo Silva was deeper than Kevin De Bruyne when City were in possession. De Bruyne’s involvement in the build up phase was minimal, rather sneaking behind Chelsea’s midfield to position himself behind Mateo Kovacic and most of the time, N’Golo Kante.
De Bruyne the creator, was more De Bruyne the penetrator. The Belgian was seeking to make runs in between Antonio Ruediger and Thiago Silva. The trigger for these runs was Joao Cancelo having the ball. Once the Portuguese full back was on the ball, Jack Grealish moved out wide to drag Ruediger with him, creating space for De Bruyne to attack.
In this example, De Bruyne was initially positioned behind Kante, only slowing down to start the move by playing the ball to Cancelo but then deciding to make his run behind Kante……
….to get an advantage over the French midfielder. Meanwhile Cancelo’s pass was played into Grealish whose movement out wide dragged Ruediger, creating space between the German defender and Thiago Silva. That space is what De Bruyne wanted to attack all game.
Less than a minute after the previous incident, the same pattern appears. De Bruyne is positioned behind Kante as Aymeric Laporte is playing the pass out wide to Cancelo.
Once Cancelo receives the ball, two things happen. Grealish starts his move towards the touchline to drag Ruediger wide, and De Bruyne starts his run into the created space between Ruediger and Thiago Silva. Helping De Bruyne is the initial position he took behind Kante.
Now that De Bruyne is attacking his designated space, Cancelo chips the ball over the Chelsea defence…
….falling for De Bruyne in a good place to threaten Chelsea. The ball though spins under his leg as he was trying to control it and the lack of passing options brings and end to this City attack.
This one ended, but the pattern stayed. Again, once Cancelo had the ball, that was De Bruyne’s trigger to make the run in the blind side of Kante. Cancelo’s pass was towards Grealish…..
……who as planned, makes a move towards the touchline to attract Ruediger. Here, De Bruyne’s runs is as explained above in the space between Ruediger and Thiago Silva. But what helps De Bruyne is Phil Foden’s switch of direction. By moving inside Foden forces Thiago Silva to go with him, increasing the gap that De Bruyne can attack.
The result of these movements from the City trio is that Kante’s late, Ruediger is out wide and Thiago Silva is central. De Bruyne is in the perfect position. Grealish then plays the ball into the space….
…..but De Bruyne’s shot is saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
City also tried mirroring the move on the other side. De Bruyne started behind the Chelsea midfield duo, as Raheem Sterling was taking steps towards the touchline to drag Malang Sarr out wide with Marcos Alonso focusing on Bernardo Silva.
When John Stones played the pass into Kyle Walker, De Bruyne started his run into the space between Sarr and Thiago Silva as Sterling was attracting the French defender out wide. Luckily for Chelsea, De Bruyne was offside and his low cross towards Grealish didn’t have enough power on it.
This type of movement should have alerted Chelsea at half time, and in the second half it was present again. De Bruyne initially positioned himself behind the Chelsea midfield and in their blind side to gain a marginal advantage when he starts his run…..
……then when the ball is played out wide towards Cancelo, De Bruyne keeps his positioning rather than moving towards Cancelo to support…..
……because once Cancelo receives the ball, that’s the trigger for Grealish to move towards the touchline to drag Ruediger and also the trigger for De Bruyne to start his run into the space that’ll be created between Ruediger and Thiago Silva.
In this attack, Cancelo’s first touch meant that he had to take a second to adjust his body orientation towards the inside of the pitch. This minimized the opportunity he had to find De Bruyne with Hakim Ziyech closing down. Despite that, Cancelo had a small angle to find De Bruyne but he elected not to play the risk pass.
Throughout all of the previous examples, City were in the in possession phase. Their only goal on the day — and the winner — came from a transition after Chelsea had lost the ball, but City’s idea to open up Chelsea was the catalyst to that goal.
After City retrieved possession, De Bruyne placed himself behind N’Golo Kante…
…..then as Rodri was playing the pass into Cancelo, Grealish moved towards the touchline to drag Ruediger with him. All the meanwhile, signaling to Cancelo with his left hand to play the pass into De Bruyne.
The movement of Grealish towards the touchline pinned Ruediger, not allowing him to move up and face De Bruyne whose initial positioning behind Kante gave him a head start over the Chelsea midfielder. The ideas City had in possession were key to putting De Bruyne in a position to score the winner with a fabulous strike from outside the box.
Guardiola’s energy and comments in the post match press conference were that of a person who just opened his birthday gift. And what a gift it was from the City players.