Pep Guardiola outfoxed Antonio Conte as Manchester City underlined their Premier League title credentials with a 1-0 win at Chelsea.
It was the first time in eight attempts that Guardiola, as a manager, has overseen victory against Chelsea in normal time and few could argue with the result, sealed by a superb second-half strike from Kevin de Bruyne.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a close look at Guardiola’s tactical triumph.
Conte opted for the defensive nous of Cesar Azpilicueta at right wing-back instead of Victor Moses, perhaps with restricting the in-form Leroy Sane in mind. Andreas Christensen continued in place of the suspended David Luiz while for City, Fabian Delph’s encouraging displays at left wing-back meant he kept his spot and Danilo was left on the bench.
Azpilicueta did a convincing job against Sane but Conte’s decision epitomised Chelsea’s defensive approach, focused more on frustrating City than putting their own positive stamp on the match. Delph proved an astute choice again at left-back. Apart from one nervous moment defending a back-post cross late on, the 27-year-old continued his recent revival with a convincing display.
City started with what was probably closest to a 4-2-3-1, Sane and Raheem Sterling out wide and David Silva roaming behind Jesus up front. In possession, however, Guardiola’s side were a collection on moving parts, Kyle Walker and Delph in particular given freedom to wander inside and support the midfield.
Chelsea began with three – Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante – in midfield but they struggled to contain City through the middle and were regularly outnumbered down the flanks. City pressed their opponents high and controlled the ball while Chelsea struggled for an outlet. When they did launch attacks they found themselves regularly exposed on the break.
Alvaro Morata was forced off with what looked like a hamstring injury in the first half and it was Willian, rather than fellow striker Michy Batshuayi, who replaced him. With Hazard pushed up front just ahead of the Brazilian, Chelsea were effectively now playing 3-5-2 but the move never really worked.
Hazard went off in the second half and Willian was lucky not to depart with him. Batshuayi might have felt he should been brought on sooner and his introduction with Pedro felt like a last throw of the dice. For City, Sterling and Sane switched sides before half-time, perhaps to give Sane a go at the more attacking Marcos Alonso but City began the second half as they ended the first.
When De Bruyne finally broke the deadlock, Guardiola brought on fresh legs in Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva, but his side never really looked under pressure late on.
City played like the home side here by pressing on the front foot, dictating possession and creating chances. Perhaps Chelsea were simply unable to cope but their plan seemed to be to absorb their opponents rather than establish any authority.
After Chelsea’s brilliant win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in midweek, this was a step back for Conte’s men. City, meanwhile, have laid down an early marker in the title race. This was one of their best performances since Guardiola took charge.
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