Sunday, October 1, 2017

MATCH NOTES / CHELSEA h

Player ratings for ESPN can be found here, but here are the extended notes from the Chelsea game, with more detailed analysis of individual performances in what was an almost faultless display by City.


One goal and a gulf in class separated the two sides after 93 minutes of breathless football at Stamford Bridge. With the champions being forced to play a 4 5 1 formation to try to stem the City flow, the movement and interchanging of positions from the away side was just too much for them to cope with, even on their own Stamford Bridge patch. Let it not be forgotten that this was the champions at home just after a win of historic proportions at Atletico Madrid, changing their shape to a wholly defensive unit to try to hold City at bay. Mind games may be old hat these days, but the psychological effect of prematch moaning about tiredness on the back of Champions League games and altering your own line up to counter the visiting team must have got through to Chelseas players.

The arm waving Chelsea boss had already withdrawn Cesc Fabregas to deep midfield in order to try to help stem the seemingly unstoppable flow towards the home goal, when injury to striker Alvaro Morata brought another admission that his side was being outclassed on its own turf. The replacement was to be Willian, another able bodied midfielder to clog the passing lines that City were using to such great effect and not Batshuayi.  

City were closing down their opponents to such great effect that there was frequently no out ball for the home side at all and they lost possession dangerously close to their own goal time and time again, as the away attackers began the press at the edge and sometimes inside the Chelsea penalty area. Bakayoko and Fabregas, needing to drop deeper and deeper to counteract this, left Chelsea with little or nothing to move forward with - at the same time completely isolating Morata and Hazard further forward - and on it went, with wave after wave of City pressure winning back possession and threatening the home goal.

Positives
City arrived at the home of the reigning champions without their captain, without flying left back Benjamin Mendy and without talismanic forward Sergio Aguero, but still took the game to Chelsea and thoroughly deserved the victory. The confidence, spirit and ability of the side that Guardiola has reconstructed is at the moment quite intoxicating. There will come a time of the season when this fluency is not so great, but you can only sit back and admire its efficiency at this early stage.  

Negatives
Difficult to find anything remotely wrong with a performance like that, but once again, the weight of possession and chances created suggests a one goal win could have been bettered. A number of presentable chances came and went in front of Thibaut Courtois goal, whilst Edersons area at the other end remained almost virgin territory to the one man Chelsea attack.  

Manager Rating out of 10
9 – Finally winning a game against Chelsea after 7 attempts, Guardiola was as bold and confident in his team selection as the players were in carrying out his instructions. Their ability to keep up his optimistic tactics all the way to the climax of the game were never in doubt. The wonderful fluidity of the Dutch in 74, of Barcelona under Cruyffs tutelage came flooding back here, with Silva and Sane popping up wide right, De Bruyne driving from deep midfield, Otamendi pounding through the centre circle and right back Walker also to be found in central areas. All frequently far from home but interchanging almost at will with team mates. Guardiola could be seen wandering the touchline with his hands nonchalantly in his pockets, with Antonio Conte, just behind him, gesticulating and screaming like gesticulating and screaming were soon going out of fashion. Indicative of the two managers respective afternoons.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Ederson Morais, 8 – The confidence seeping from the goalkeeper through the defence and beyond is intoxicating. One shot from Cesar Azpilicueta came at him unsighted and he was rapidly down to his left to palm it away. Straight after this a brilliant high catch and throw out to release a scintillating counter attack from Raheem Sterling should have led to a goal. The Chelsea shot total of 4 was their lowest at home since January 2015 (also against City) but, even so, he was alert to the possibility of quick breaks throughout. To illustrate this, three of his infrequent touches came from punts down the pitch from his opposite number, who, unlike the Brazilian, had nobody to aim at at all for long periods. Finished the match with an outrageous 50 yard punt of his own, which sailed straight to the feet of Jesus in the 93rd minute. If ever a metaphor was needed for the confidence running through this side, here it was.   

DF John Stones, 8 – Absolutely imperious at the back in an all but faultless display. Quick to nick possession from Morata early on, but experienced his one dodgy moment against the same player when the Spaniard skinned him down the right touchline and he was grateful to Walker for the saving interception that followed. Injured going forward to get on the end of a superb De Bruyne cross to the far post but picked himself up to complete a commanding performance of interceptions and clever passing.    
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 – Wrongly penalised for an early tackle, he was also booked late on for an unnecessarily hectic lunge at Willian when City could have been playing down the clock in more genteel fashion. Flying header from De Bruynes first half corner, and keen to get forward through the middle areas and play his part in the surging attacking moves of his team mates.   

DF Fabian Delph 8 – Another calm and assured display, this time on the big stage under a searching spotlight, as Chelseas early attacking pinpointed him as a possible weak spot. Wrong choice. Undressed down the line early on, but thereafter confident and increasingly in charge of the left flank, where he often joined the attack. Cannot be expected to fly to the byline like Benjamin Mendy, but does his work tidily and crisply, cutting out plenty of passes and joining the attack so enthusiastically that he spent more time advanced than the much vaunted Walker did on the opposite flank.    

MF Kyle Walker 8 – Energetic display from the right back. First touch took him marauding through central midfield, to link with Leroy Sane wide on the left flank, an early sign for the home side of how the City players would be interchanging their roles. Quick to support Stones on the one occasion Morata got goalside of his defensive partner. Two magnificent through balls one after the other as City pressed late on and energy to spare at the end to head away one last bit of danger with a minute to go.    

MF Fernandinho, 8 – Plenty of early possession as City settled in. Set the pace and drew the boundary lines. Great opportunity to score from Kevin de Bruynes corner but his bullet header was saved. Booked for accumulation of fouls, after one of his tactical trips on Willian was quickly followed by another block on Hazard, but was a lynchpin in Citys almost total midfield control.   
MF David Silva, 8 -- Always available, always turning out of trouble and finding the crucial spaces. Promising early links with De Bruyne and Sterling suggested that City were on the money and Silva robbing Chelseas boiler room boss N-Golo Kante served to confirm this. Pushed well forward - often tucked in right behind Gabriel Jesus - the Spaniard had two chances to open the scoring, but just failed with both, dragging a shot wide from Walkers run and doing extremely well to get off a shot with no space for proper backlift with Rudiger breathing down his neck. With City in the ascendency just after the goal, could and should have made it two, but appeared to mistrust his right foot to do the job. In the whirling vortex of such a fast paced game, every pass had just the right weight applied to it.

MF Kevin de Bruyne, 9 – Perhaps with a point to prove to the side that sold him, De Bruyne was the difference between a great City performance ending unrewarded and the eventual win. Ironic then that it had been his miss 12 months ago that was the turning point in the Etihad match between the two sides, which possibly brought it home to Chelsea that they could win the title. Here his strike appeared to remind Chelsea that this year will be very different. Started wide on the right, but popped up all over the pitch, guiding, prompting, prodding and, when it came to the crunch, scoring a superb left footed winner. Early freekick proved to be a sighter for an afternoon of magical passing and forceful running. Despite playing a lot of the game hugging the right touchline, his influence was immense. From time to time drifted back to a central number 8 position, dragging Bakayoko with him. Balls through to Sterling causing constant danger and the arcing right wing passes and crosses almost impossible for Chelsea to deal with. Still closing Chelsea players down on one leg right at the end. Complete performance.  
MF, Leroy Sane 8 – Quick to block early attempts by Rudiger to advance down his flank, he posed plenty of problems to Chelsea going forward too. Brilliant use of tiny spaces close to the touchline in swapping close passes with David Silva and wriggling free to the goalline. First of these could have brought a goal but the ball in was played just behind the onrushing De Bruyne. Switched to the right for much of the second period, where he also caused some danger. Defensively, failed to pick up Hazard from a quick free kick played inside him, leading to an Ederson save.   

MF, Raheem Sterling 8 Sent flying as early as the third minute, he remained happy to run at the heart of the Chelsea defence, drawing a string of first half free kicks in dangerous positions. His shadow Marcus Alonso was booked for one foul too many and was afforded little chance to leave his tracking duties to create some damage of his own. The speed of his running through the inside right channels was too much for ponderous Chelsea defenders. Volleyed a strong left footer over, when with a little more composure, he might have added to Citys score. Ball snatched in extremis from his toe end as he was shaping to shoot just after this too, having been set up beautifully by David Silva.   
FW, Gabriel Jesus, 8 – Selfless and capable performance from the Brazilian, putting a real shift in for the team. This was encapsulated in his constant closing down of the Chelsea defenders and goalkeeper, leading to multiple losses of possession from the home side. Sterling effort. When the day demands that he "disappears" into the team effort, this is exactly what he does, with his deftness of touch playing a vital part in the goal and his holding play good enough to maintain possession with plenty of attention from home defenders. Amazing technique on show towards the end, firstly to fashion a cushioned volley that was arrowing inside the far post when Rudiger got his head to it in last gasp desperation and secondly when trapping Edersons fifty yard punt down the middle of the park in injury time. Killed it dead.     

Substitutes:
Bernardo Silva -- Arrived as a 75th minute replacement for his namesake David and took only a few minutes to get into his stride. That Citys passing through the middle did not skip a beat in the meantime showed how well he adapted to a more central role.

lkay Gundogan – Arrived on 83 minutes for Leroy Sane and immediately threaded a wonderful ball through the middle of the Chelsea defence. Sprightly and alert, he looks keen to catch up for lost time.
Danilo – 93rd minute time waster to replace an absolutely exhausted De Bruyne.    


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