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Hip to be square.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When watching the highlights of Man City v Chelsea on MOTD on Saturday night, it struck me how many chances Chelsea had to take the game. The highlights package showed about 3 chances for the Citizens, yet when watching the game it felt to me that City were the better side.

The battle was won and lost as many of these tense affairs often are, in the midfield. With Chelsea lacking midfield talisman Frank Lampard, a trio of Mikel, Ramires and Essien lined up in the centre of the park with the attacking trident of Malouda, Anelka and Drogba ahead of them.

While City’s 4-5-1 is ostensibly a 4-3-3 in a similar vein to Chelsea’s, there is a crucial difference. City’s aim is to contain, and break at speed with all the attacks coming through Carlos Tevez’s running. Chelsea on the other hand aim to score with wave-upon-wave of attacks. City employ Milner and Johnson to great effect on the wings, but against Chelsea opted for the more short-passing oriented David Silva. Together with the now customary trio of Barry, De Jong and Yaya Touré, Silva aimed to drop deep looking to release Tevez or Milner.

Usually when in possession players look to position themselves in triangles, thereby offering 2 choices for the player on the ball. When done well (Arsenal and Barça) it often results in lethal counter attacks at breakneck speed. During this game we saw 2 different interpretations of this triangular movement; in City’s case what we often saw were rhombuses in the midfield, and in Chelsea’s the positioning was extremely flat.

As they worked the ball through the midfield, any City player more often than not had 3 passing opportunities. They created these lopsided squares which moved through the pitch comfortably retaining possession and dragging Chelsea’s midfield around. Conversely when Chelsea were on the ball their midfield remained flat, forcing players to attempt long balls over the defence for the strikers to run onto. Eventually Anelka was forced to come deep to collect the ball which took a man out of the attack, leaving Touré, Kompany and Boyata (who did a great job) to marshal a lonely Drogba.

Oddly for Man City their tactic was very unbalanced; Milner rarely if ever left the left-wing, whereas Silva rarely remained in the same position. With Adam Johnson they seem a much more threatening side, as he enjoys cutting inside dragging defenders with him, but perhaps for the bigger occasions Mancini wants to play it safe.

In the end the only goal came from a counter attack. Yaya Touré released the little Argentine engine and the rest is history.

Chelsea would’ve fared a great deal better with Lampard’s involvement, his positioning in that hole behind the strikers is superb. As a result he would’ve forced Barry or De Jong to sit a lot deeper, and the knock on would’ve been a more open midfield battle. As it stood though, neither Essien nor Ramires took up the mantle.

A fairly contested affair, with some interesting tactical battles. Just don’t expect to be wowed by City very much this season.

posted by teedoubleyou


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