“People are bound to say you played a defensive midfielder here as you didn’t do in the Champions League final, and that’s what made the difference. How fair would you think that is an opinion?”
The first question in the post-match press conference for Pep Guardiola was inevitable. A comparison between this game against Chelsea and the Champions League final.
However unlike the Champions League final, Chelsea’s setup was different here. Playing a 5–3–2 with N’Golo Kante in midfield alongside Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, rather than a 5–2–3 with Mason Mount. The English midfielder has the ability to play both roles in midfield and up front giving a headache for other teams. Him being out of the game meant that Chelsea might probably continue with the shape they finished the game against Tottenham with.
It was more the faulty pressing that cost Manchester City in Porto rather than the absence of a defensive midfielder. On Saturday, a different shape from Chelsea meant a different pressing scheme from Manchester City. One that worked.
Out of possession, Manchester City played in a 4–2–3–1 shape with Gabriel Jesus and Jack Grealish flanking Kevin De Bruyne, all three behind Phil Foden.
When Chelsea tried building up through the right side, Jesus moved inside to press Jorginho while De Bruyne shifted his focus towards Kante and Joao Cancelo moved up to press Reece James (Yellow). The roles of Grealish and Foden once the ball moved out wide to the wing back was to block the passing lane backwards, something that Manchester did excellently throughout this game (Light Blue). Behind this wave of pressing was Rodri (Red), who acted as a safety net for the press, and Bernardo Silva who was tasked to mark and press Kovacic.
The pressing was asymmetrical due to Kovacic’s ability to receive on the turn when compared to Kante. That meant different roles when Chelsea built up through their left side instead of mirroring the roles. On this side, Bernardo Silva moved up from the double pivot to press Kovacic. Meanwhile, Kyle Walker had the task of man-marking Marcos Alonso, and De Bruyne shifted to press Jorginho. Again, City used their forward players to block back passes into the Chelsea center backs as seen here by the positioning of Foden and Jesus.
Without a clear passing option, Chelsea tried playing a long ball forward. That’s when Rodri’s role came into play, sweeping up behind the press. It’s also important to note the positioning of Grealish when Chelsea were building up through their left hand side, moving inside the pitch to mark Kante.
The first line of City’s press wasn’t aggressive, mainly trying to block the passing lanes into the midfield….
…..then when Chelsea’s center backs played the ball into their second line, that was the pressing trigger for City to press aggressively, whether that was against Chelsea’s wing-backs or the midfielders. Here, Bernardo Silva moved up to press Kovacic, while De Bruyne was moving towards Jorginho in case the pass was played into him. Again, now that the ball has shifted to the second line, the task of the near forwards (Foden and Jesus here) was to prevent passes backwards.
Kovacic didn’t have passing options and Bernardo Silva pounced, regaining the ball before winning a throw in deep into Chelsea’s half.
When building through the left hand side, Kovacic often dropped to the touchline. City’s pressing scheme was still maintained with Bernado Silva moving up to press the Croatian and De Bruyne sticking to Jorginho.
Now with two Chelsea players occupying the same vertical strip, Alonso could move inside into the space Kovacic vacated to receive the ball…..
…..but that wasn’t the case as Walker strictly man-marked Alonso when Chelsea were building up through their left hand side. Here, Walker managed to intercept the ball and played it into Grealish, putting City into an attacking position.
Another example here illustrates how Chelsea couldn’t progress up the pitch freely. At first, City’s forward line is in position to move either side depending on where Chelsea will play the ball.
Then once Chelsea try to build up through their left hand side, the scheme for this side is activated. Silva moves up to press Kovacic, De Bruyne moves closer to Jorginho and Foden and Jesus are positioned to deny back wards passes to the center backs.
Behind them you can spot Walker breathing down Alonso’s neck. Under pressure and without a clear passing option, Kovacic tries a horizontal pass into Kante….
….which was successful, but that’s when Grealish’s role is effective. Him marking Kante when Chelsea build up through their left side means that the Frenchman had to play a rushed pass into Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian’s first touched failed him and Rodri, the safety net, managed to retrieve possession.
City’s only goal in this game came from a corner kick, but the attack that resulted in that corner originally came as a result of the press. With Chelsea building up from the right hand side, Jesus moved inside to mark Jorginho but De Bruyne wasn’t sticking to Kante meaning that Cezar Azpilicueta could now play the pass into the midfielder. However, behind him is City’s safety net and that’s Rodri.
Rodri’s presence forces Kante backwards and with no passing options, he goes all the way back to Andreas Christensen.
With the nearby midfielders marked by Grealish and Jesus, and Foden putting Christensen under pressure. The Danish center backs boots the ball forward to no one, City regain the ball and from this retrieval of possession they attack to win the corner kick that resulted in Jesus’ goal.
This was City’s best performance this season as Guardiola confirmed after the game. And it wasn’t only the pressing, the counter-pressing was excellent as well, giving Chelsea no time on the ball once they won it back.
“Maybe right. Maybe he’s right” answered Guardiola while trying to hide a smirk on his face and maintaining the poker face.