Manchester City – Chelsea: City’s Wing Dominance Overwhelms Chelsea (4-0)

Pep Guardiola was once again able to adapt his team to unlock Chelsea’s defense here, as a structural shift helped Manchester City dismantle Chelsea over the wings. City capitalized in the first half to go three goals up, leaving them a comfortable second half despite Chelsea’s slight tactical improvements.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

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Manchester City left Stamford Bridge victorious when these two sides met earlier this week. Pep Guardiola had experimented with a new shape in the first half which his side had struggled in, but after some second half changes, City were able to secure the three points.

City started with a 4-2-3-1 shape this time around, as Kyle Walker, Manuel Akanji, Aymeric Laporte, and Sergio Gómez played in defense. Bernardo Silva joined Rodri in the double pivot, while Phil Foden played a number ten role in the front four alongside wingers Riyad Mahrez and Cole Palmer. World Cup winner Julián Álvarez was then the central striker.

Chelsea meanwhile arrived at the Etihad Stadium looking to find winning ways again after poor performances of late. Graham Potter went with a 4-3-2-1 system for this game, with a back four made up of Trevoh Chalobah, debutant Bashir Humphreys, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Lewis Hall. Conor Gallagher, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovačić were the midfield trio, while Hakim Ziyech and Mason Mount played behind Kai Havertz up front.

City win over the wings

Chelsea had occasional spells of possession in the first half, and even looked quite composed in some of their deep buildup against the high pressing of City. Ultimately though, Chelsea lacked the threat into depth on the last line, meaning that even when they broke through the first pressing lines, they struggled to capitalize and City got bodies behind the ball again.

Without the ball, as they did earlier in the week, Chelsea set up in the first half with a narrow shape which looked to prevent City from taking control of the central areas of the pitch. They faced City with a 4-3-2-1 defensive shape, where Ziyech and Mount as the attacking midfielders looked to prevent City from progressing the ball through the number six space.

In the opening minutes, City appeared briefly in a 3-2-4-1 shape, somewhat similar to that seen earlier in the week. Gómez would drift inside next to Rodri, while Walker started deep and Mahrez held the width on the right, with Bernardo Silva pushed up in the right halfspace.

This changed within a few minutes though, and City switched to the structure which earned them dominance over the wings. This structure was closer to their nominal 4-2-3-1 shape, as the fullbacks stayed in more orthodox positions close to the touchline, around level with the double pivot.

Chelsea gave up the wide areas, allowing City’s fullbacks to be prominent outlets when they attacked. 

With the narrowness of Chelsea’s midfield and attacking units, these were the spacious areas where City could launch attacks from. The wingers would often move slightly inside into the channels between Chelsea’s fullbacks and center-backs since the fullbacks were giving width.

Bernardo Silva was meanwhile in a deeper role now, playing in the double pivot alongside Rodri. Foden still occupied a free role as number ten. These central players were utilised less than one may expect in a Guardiola attack. Instead, much of the productive ball circulation was done over the wings, where Walker and Gómez were dominating the game in terms of ball progression.

City’s eventual breakthrough came from an expertly-struck Mahrez free-kick, while their second goal was via an Álvarez penalty after Havertz’ handball in the box. Their third goal though, epitomised their dominance of the wide areas. It saw them switching play from one wing to the other a couple of times within the same move, before Walker underlapped Mahrez on the right and delivered a low cutback for Foden to tuck away to make it 3-0 at half time.

Limited Chelsea response

Chelsea had been unable to deal with City in the wide areas in the first half, and Potter looked to tackle this directly with his half-time changes. In terms of personnel, Denis Zakaria and new signing David Datro Fofana entered to replace Kovačić and Havertz.

City’s dominance over the wings is demonstrated in their passmap.

Chelsea also saw a change in formation to accompany these substitutes, as they switched to a back three with Chalobah and Humphreys either side of Koulibaly. Gallagher was deployed as a right wing-back, while Hall remained wide on the left. Zakaria joined Jorginho in central midfield behind a front three of ZIyech, Fofana and Mount.

The wider defensive stance provided by the back five did help to somewhat alleviate the problems that Chelsea had been facing in the first half. Chelsea’s wing-backs could pressure the ball more quickly in wide areas, while the channels in behind them were now less exposed thanks to the extra central defender, since Chelsea’s side central defenders could now provide cover in these areas.

Bearing the game state in mind though, City were naturally not pressing forward as strongly as they had been in the first half. They were happier to be slightly more passive with and without the ball, which meant that Chelsea’s stability was less under threat. 

Guardiola made his own changes around the hour mark, bringing Kalvin Phillips and João Cancelo in for Rodri and Cancelo. Potter also made further substitutes as this point, as César Azpilicueta and Omari Hutchinson replaced Jorginho and Ziyech. This meant a move into central midfield for Gallagher as Azpilicueta took up the right wing-back role. Carney Chukwuemeka was also added to the attack in place of Mount ten minutes later.

Despite Chelsea’s slight improvement, City never looked remotely troubled here. The chance creation from Chelsea was pretty much non-existent throughout the game. City were even able to add a fourth goal late on from another penalty, as Mahrez stepped up this time to convert, sending City into the next round with a 4-0 win.


City’s adaptations to Chelsea’s shape delivered the goods here, as they were able to have the game won within the first half, helped by their domination of the wide areas. Guardiola’s side will now face either Oxford United or Arsenal in the next round.

Chelsea were poor defensively in the first half and offered almost nothing going forward throughout the whole match. They find themselves in a challenging moment as Potter looks to shape the team as he wishes. The team faces another challenge in midweek as they meet West London rivals Fulham, who have won all three of their league games since the Premier League resumed.  

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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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