Manchester City vs Chelsea

Manchester City’s Chelsea loss shows their weakness

Manchester City were expected to defeat Chelsea on Saturday and Brentford on Tuesday to top the Premier League. They had won 11 straight and had every cause to win 13 or more; that’s what City does this time of year.

In March, City faced Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton, Arsenal, and Aston Villa in consecutive league games, which may have hampered their bid for a fifth Premier League title in six years.

They wondered how far ahead they would be. As long as Liverpool beat Luton at home next week, City will not start that crucial run of games with a lead.

That may not matter much: City’s fixtures at Liverpool and Arsenal next month will be crucial. Winners should keep the title. The Saturday detail is that City weren’t particularly good.

According to Opta’s xG model, they won the game 2.6 to 1.4 and Erling Haaland missed a hatful of chances (1.7xG’s worth), but they also conceded chance after chance on the break, as Pep Guardiola teams always do when vulnerable.

Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling missed first-half one-on-ones before Sterling scored. In the second half, Ederson saved Sterling’s Jackson cross shot. Ben Chilwell had a fantastic chance to feed Jackson or Sterling before halftime, but he duffed his delivery under some pressure.

High-line pressing is like this. When it works, an opponent feels stifled and unable to release pressure, but it may go horribly wrong, as Liverpool experienced in 2020-21.

Chelsea, with Jackson and Sterling’s mobility, are exceptionally adept at exploiting space behind City’s defense, as they did in November’s 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge.

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(Despite their recent struggles, Brentford may think they have an opportunity on Tuesday; thanks to their counter-attackers, they were the only team to beat City home and away last season and, although they lost 3-1 to City earlier this month, they took the lead).

However, why City’s pressing glitched is another topic. That is a complicated question, but the Guardiola approach carries some danger. He was protected by John Stones’ move from defense to midfield last season.

While Stones recovers from injury, Manuel Akanji has had to play that job, and he’s not as good. Ilkay Gündogan joined Barcelona without being replaced, leaving Rodri with a lot of midfield responsibility, especially because City need him to score crucial goals.

Even with Stones at right-back, City displayed similar vulnerabilities against Everton the week before and could have been punished by a more mobile or confident striker than Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

City struggled to gain any real fluency in the first half against Chelsea, with Cole Palmer doubling up with Malo Gusto on Jérémy Doku and Moisés Caicedo filling the space between Gusto, who tended to stay wide, and right-sided centre-back Axel Disasi.

One of the joys of football is that the greatest approach to counter Guardiola’s intricate tactics is simple: pack guys behind the ball and go straight to two speedy forwards.

As Julián Álvarez struggled in his deeper role, City became frustrated. However, sending in more crosses in the second half led to more opportunities, including many headed and volleyed chances for Haaland.

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Haaland can head the ball well, but he hasn’t scored since the Manchester derby in October.

Two points lost. City were the better team before their rants about supposed penalties (neither assertion is persuasive).

They had won 11 straight. They remain favorites for the crown, but Saturday suggests it may be more difficult than expected.

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