Manchester City – Chelsea: City Prevail Unimpressively (1-0)

Manchester City had the majority of the ball in this game, but were not at their best, able to be contained by Chelsea’s compact defensive scheme. Chelsea looked dangerous in transitions too, and were arguably the better team overall. However, they did not finish their chances, and were made to regret it late on when Bernardo Silva struck for City. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

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Manchester City arrived at Wembley on the back of an agonizing penalty shootout defeat to Real Madrid in midweek, but still in with the chance of winning a domestic double. Chelsea meanwhile were looking to salvage some form of silverware from a disappointing season. 

Pep Guardiola’s side lined up in a nominal 4-3-3 formation, with Kyle Walker, John Stones, Manuel Akanji, and Nathan Aké in defense. Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, and Phil Foden were in midfield, while the front three comprised of Bernardo Silva, Julián Álvarez, and Jack Grealish. 

Mauricio Pochettino meanwhile lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with a back four of Malo Gusto, Trevoh Chalobah, Thiago Silva, and Marc Cucurella. Moisés Caicedo and Enzo Fernández were the double-pivot, while a trio of Noni Madueke, Cole Palmer, and Conor Gallagher supported Nicolas Jackson up front. 

City lacklustre with possession

Predictably, City had the majority of the ball in this game, with Chelsea defending in a mid or deep block and attempting to catch City on the counter-attack when possible. Chelsea’s approach was moderately successful, as they limited a lacklustre City to relatively few chances. 

City attacked in a 3-2-4-1 shape, as Stones, or sometimes Akanji would push into the number six area alongside Rodri, while Walker and Aké played as the side backs in a back three along with the remaining center-back. Foden played mostly from the right halfspace, with De Bruyne in the left halfspace. Bernardo Silva and Grealish meanwhile held the width. 

City’s typical offensive structure on the afternoon.

Against this, Chelsea played from a compact 4-4-2 shape, starting in a mid-block, where they would attempt to engage City around the halfway line and prevent any further advancement into midfield from there.

Chelsea’s front four were particularly important in this, as they remained narrow and covered the spaces around the City number six area. Chelsea’s use of cover shadows and coverage of space around this area prevented City from being able to build through their number sixes. 

Caicedo and Fernández were left to cover Foden and De Bruyne, which could sometimes be challenging since they pulled into quite wide positions. The coverage of the halfspaces offered by Chelsea’s wingers was somewhat helpful here, but De Bruyne on left was still able to get on the ball in wider areas sometimes. 

Chelsea’s central midfielders were at least able to prevent themselves from being pulled too far apart and leaving space to exploit in the center. Overall, the Chelsea midfield and forward units were quite effective in blunting City’s buildup. 

Bernardo saves City’s day

Guardiola made his first change at half-time, bringing Rúben Dias on for Stones. Akanji was now mostly responsible for pushing up into midfield, while Dias would remain in the backline. The effectiveness of their play did not really change though, as they continued to look like a team suffering the physical and psychological fatigue from the extra-time and penalties of midweek. Chelsea themselves included a few higher pressing phases early in the second half, trying to capitalize on City’s uncharacteristic performance. 

Without the ball, City looked slightly vulnerable too, especially in transitions. Chelsea were able to get in behind on a few occasions with the speed and craft of Jackson, but he was unfortunately unable to deliver the end product in the crucial moments. 

In their rare phases without the ball, City would press high in something of a 4-4-2 diamond shape. Foden would push up alongside Álvarez onto the Chelsea center-backs, while De Bruyne was slightly deeper, attaching himself to Caicedo in Chelsea’s number six space. Bernardo Silva on the right side tucked in slightly to help close the left halfspace where Fernández would operate, and Grealish was the left side of the diamond, with Rodri holding. Of course, City’s center-backs were able to move forward flexibly as well during pressing. 

Guardiola brought Jérémy Doku on after hour mark to try and inject some energy into the attack. Naturally, City sought him often for one-versus-one situations, and he did create one or two dangerous moments. 

This probably helped inform Pochettino’s decision making just over ten minutes later, when he brought Axel Disasi and Mykhailo Mudryk on for Gusto and Madueke. Mudryk played on the left, meaning Gallagher moved over to the right side, adding some extra defensive steel to Chelsea’s right side in combination with Disasi. 

Despite these efforts, it was eventually an attack down the left side that was fatal for Chelsea, as De Bruyne underlapped Doku to provide the cross which eventually found its way to Bernardo Silva at the back post. The Portuguese was able to find the net, sending City to the FA Cup Final.


City played a draining match in midweek, and it seemed to show in this game. They were below their usual level, with their possession game not as dangerous, and their counterpressing able to broken through. As they so often do though, they got the result they needed, and will go into the FA Cup Final as favourites to retain the trophy. 

Chelsea can be happy with their overall level of performance in this game. They were probably the better team, as their pressing game contained City for the most part, and they were dangerous in transitions. The only problem was their finishing, and this lack of efficiency in front of goal proved their undoing in this game. 

Match plots will be added as soon as possible.

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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