Manchester City – Chelsea: Citizens Celebrate The Coronation (1-0)

Other results took the edge away from this game, but Manchester City were in no mood to ease off the gas. Pep’s new-look eleven were on a more even keel with their unfancied guests but still secured three points to keep up their winning streak in preparation for future forays at glory.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

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The peak of the project for Pep Guardiola is in sight. Manchester City have acquired the best in class, forging one of the most complete outfits ever on English shores. Their all-conquering mood in the last three months has been testimony to this work. Most striking was a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid to avenge their exit in 2022 and reach the Champions League final. Aspirations of a treble are still alive, and victory in the last home outing of the season would mark the completion of phase one of the feat.

Few clubs can come close to Chelsea’s collapse under Todd Boehly. The new owner has axed two of the most respected managers in the Premier League, spent nearly £600 million on players, and turned over much of the staff behind the scenes— all to sit in 12th place in May. Nothing of note is on the line in an eerily unusual position for the West Londoners: any dropped points from this visit to the champions elect would confirm a finish in the bottom half of the table for the first time in 27 years.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard picked an extra man at the back for this trip. Benoît Badiashile dropped to the bench; Wesley Fofana and César Azpilicueta filled in the defense. Noni Madueke also lost his place in the starting eleven, so Raheem Sterling, once a part of City’s squad, moved over to the right, and Conor Gallagher was to the left of a pivot of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Enzo Fernández. João Félix was out of the squad due to a slight knock, forcing Kai Havertz to deputize upfront.

The Etihad was already in a jubilant mood. Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest had wrapped up the Premier League title in favor of the reigning champions. Their manager duly rotated, pulling out nine of the men that started against Madrid. Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Gómez stepped in on the left of the back four to join Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji. Kalvin Phillips replaced Rodri in midfield, making his first start for his new side, and Cole Palmer earned his first league start of the campaign.

City continue the charge

The pieces on the pitch changed, but City set out with the intent to control the contest. They built with a back three of Walker, Akanji, and Laporte on the ball, while Riyad Mahrez, Julian Álvarez, and Palmer pinned the back five at the other end of the field. The arrangement in the middle of the park altered from the typical box midfield. Gómez moved between wing and halfspace, Phil Foden filled the inside channel between Sterling and Fernández, and Rico Lewis advanced on the right of midfield.

7th minute: offensive sequence from Manchester City. Álvarez dropped off to provide a vertical link to Akanji, drawing both members of the double pivot to the ball. City rotate possession backwards and laterally to Laporte, while Gómez widens from the halfspace. Sterling follows, Fernández is still in a higher position and Fofana was unwilling to continue to track the movement of Foden. The attacking midfielder can receive between the lines, using the deep runs of Lewis and Álvarez to switch the play.

City defended in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Álvarez closed down Thiago Silva, Foden shifted towards the near side member of the double pivot, and the ball far winger compacted the off-ball structure. The ball did not stick for the away team in the opening stages, and one buildup sequence badly backfired.

Fofana punched the ball forward but missed the dark blue shirts ahead of him. Phillips fed a first time pass back into the path of Palmer, initiating an offensive transition. Foden spun to the outside of his fellow academy graduate, freeing the lane for Álvarez to receive. The striker broke into the penalty area and fired a shot into the corner of the net past Kepa. City had taken the lead in the 12th minute.

Raising the standards

After the first 15 minutes, Chelsea began to push the press forward. Trevoh Chalobah and Lewis Hall locked down the right of City’s offense, but the left was much thornier to keep quiet. Palmer excelled at receiving the ball to feet to drive at Azpilicueta or testing his marker with movement in behind. His and Foden’s incursions racked up the shot count, but the visitors would eventually start to compete.

Chelsea could not send the play long to a direct target man, finding a rhythm to work the ball through the thirds. Loftus-Cheek sat deeper in midfield, Fernández was free to distribute passes, and Sterling looked for deep runs in behind. These elements all nearly meshed together neatly near the half hour mark. Fernández broke the lines to hit Havertz, whose through ball set away Sterling outside Akanji. The forward was one on one against Stefan Ortega, but the goalkeeper’s stiff palm parried the effort.

45 + 1st minute: offensive sequence from Chelsea. Loftus-Cheek recirculated the ball from the left halfspace and stays deep, allowing Fernández to rotate into the space behind Álvarez, receive from Fofana and advance into the final third. Havertz’s blindside movement off the shoulder of Akanji releases the inside left channel for Sterling and room opens for the midfielder to draw in Laporte.

Moments later, Chelsea turned over possession with their high pressure. Havertz picked up the ball on the edge of the box and fed a pass out to Hall on the left flank. The wing-back drilled a delivery to the far post, where Gallagher headed beyond Ortega but hit the frame of the net. Indeed, the final piece of incision remained missing from the away team’s offense, maintaining the deficit at half time.

The sun shines on City’s parade

Pep continued to lean into his tendencies to tinker for the second half. Gómez was no longer in a more option-oriented role that switched lanes on the left. He stayed inside next to Phillips, and the base of three remained at the back. Lewis’ one contact play between the lines and the movement of Foden further into the center marked out the pair as options on the swivel to transition into the midfield.

60th minute: buildup sequence from Manchester City. Gómez parries inside towards Stones, opening the deeper passing lane to Lewis. Chalobah covers to his left and Foden is free to receive centrally.

In the 71st minute, this combination of threats seemed to have sealed the deal. Foden pulled Fofana out of the backline, Álvarez grabbed the attention of Thiago Silva, and Ortega pumped a long ball to Mahrez on the right flank. Hall stumbled, his opposite man raced into the penalty area and squared the ball to Álvarez to bag a brace. However, VAR reviewed and chalked off the strike due to a handball from the winger in the buildup. The big guns duly entered the field to finish the assignment at hand.

Stones had already come on for Akanji, clearing a strike from Sterling off the goalline. In the final stages of the game, Lewis moved to the left of the back four in place of Gómez, Kevin de Bruyne slotted into the advanced role on the right of the midfield, Erling Haaland led the line, and Rodri filled in at the center of the defense. Both outfits continued to trade blows until the final whistle, but the visitors could not spoil the clean sheet of their opponents. City’s day of triumph went to plan.


Manchester City’s era of supremacy continues. The reserves produced a less dominant display than usual from the hosts, but they still got over the line to seal a twelfth Premier League win in a row on their way to a fifth title in the last six years. Years of experience will inform how Guardiola assigns minutes in the final two fixtures of the league season, and he will not allow his men to rest on their laurels. A pair of cup finals awaits in June: meticulous management will leave nothing to chance.

Only three hours of action remain for Chelsea to endure until they can see the back of this season. What remains of the fixture list, a trip to City’s cross-city rivals and the visit of Newcastle United, is not much more forgiving. A return to European football will be the aim in the next twelve months, and stability will be integral to whatever they wish to achieve. Progress requires apt planning from top to bottom to bring out the best from many and not the few— as has too often been the case recently.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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