The Chalkboard: Benitez takes on Mancini
Chelsea took on Manchester City in what was labelled the “Clash of the Cash”. Rafael Benitez took charge of his first game as Chelsea boss. This was a clash of the man who preceded Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, and the man who succeeded him.
It was a closely fought affair between the two title contenders. Neither team will be too happy, or too disappointed with the result. Both managers would definitely take a point against a side they consider to be their direct rivals.
Benitez altered Chelsea’s defence, the improvement was evident
Chelsea showed far more organization in the defensive third as compared to the final few matches of the RDM era. The midfield and the defence put up a good show, and stuck to their positions well.
This was the first time this season that Chelsea went in with the central defensive pairing of Ivanovic and Luiz. Cesar Azpilicueta seems to have done enough to convince his manager of his competence at right back.
Individually, David Luiz was excellent for Chelsea, in sharp contrast to some of his recent performances. The Brazilian seems to require an experienced head to guide him and channel his talents in the right direction. He has performed much better in games where he has started alongside John Terry, rather than Cahill, or under an experienced coach, as was the case under the tutelage of Ancelotti, and Benitez tonight.
Ivanovic could, on the face of his performance, stake a strong claim to a permanent central defensive position. He won almost every aerial ball that was played into the 6 yard box, giving Dzeko no change whatsoever.
Chelsea were also a lot more aggressive in the way they defended, winning an impressive 19 out of 24 tackles against City, as opposed to just 7 out of 13 against West Bromwich Albion.
Idea for Chelsea was right in wide areas, not implemented properly
As far as wide areas are concerned though, Chelsea cannot be too pleased with their performance in this sector. The league champions were able to get in a number of crosses, and may consider themselves unlucky to have not scored one or two. Despite the fact that the wide men tracked back, and they often isolated play in 2 on 1 or 2 on 2 situations in wide areas, Chelsea couldn’t keep crosses out.
Defensive responsibilities took a toll on attacking trio
Going forward, Chelsea’s threat was reduced considerably though. The attacking trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar didn’t show the kind of form that has had pundits raving about them. This may partially be attributed to the fact that they were burdened with a lot more defensive responsibility, and the next point.
Interesting long ball approach implemented
While Chelsea under RDM this season looked at the long ball only as a last resort, under Benitez, there was a conscious effort to play more long passes. This was done in order to bring variety to their play.
As can be seen by the picture above, there was not much activity in midfield for Chelsea, a lot of the ball stayed deep in defence as Chelsea looked to pass it around, playing the occasional long ball to lone striker Fernando Torres
In recent weeks this has been lacking as far as attacking is concerned. While it worked in the sense that City were committing a lot of players to press Chelsea, in the expectation that they would try and pass it out from the back, it failed on account of not really being a useful and effective attacking weapon due to the inability of Torres to compete effectively with Kompany and Nastasic.
The stand-out performer for City was without doubt Matija Nastasic. The young defender seems to be maturing with every game and was excellent in the way he swiftly dealt with any attacking moves Chelsea made. His distribution from the back, and attacking zest from set-pieces is also to be taken note of.
Mancini opted to convert to an attacking system of crosses from the flanks, to not much effectiveness
Sensing that Chelsea were undone last week by WBA’s crosses into the box which culminated in headed goals, Roberto Mancini opted to start with the super sub, Dzeko, rather than Tevez who possesses an enviable scoring record against The Blues.
Dzeko, afforded a rare start, had a quiet game. This was in large part due to the fact that he constantly enjoyed the attention of Ivanovic and Luiz. In the absence of a way to penetrate through the Chelsea rearguard with through passes, City resorted to crosses, with Kolarov and Zabaleta seeing a lot of the ball. Zabaleta in particular, impressed with his energy and willingness to get beyond his attackers. With willing runners and crossers, City would expect to do a lot better from crosses, especially with the likes of Dzeko in the side, but they disappointed, getting on the end of only 11 out of 34 crosses. Except for one opportunity that was wasted by Aguero, none of the other efforts were very convincing either.
City undone by their own attacking inefficiency
Yaya Toure wasn’t the force he generally is from midfield, and the fact that City couldn’t open up the Chelsea defence may have had a lot to do with the fact that the big Ivorian wasn’t at his lung bursting best.
While their attempts at breaking through the Blues’ defense with Dzeko on the field weren’t successful, those with Tevez on the field were futile, with the Argentine barely getting into the game, and Chelsea growing in stature.
Chelsea the rigid unit
With all the defensive rigidity came the lack of flexibility in the attacking third. Under Di Matteo, Oscar, Hazard and Mata switched positions seamlessly to devastating effect. Oscar switched positions with Hazard in the second half and moved to the left, while Mata stayed close to the touchline, unlike his City counterpart, Silva, who had a relatively free hand to drift around Chelsea’s box. Fernando Torres showed more appetite than he did last week, but was also seen on the flanks quite rarely.
Set-Pieces, Rafa’s much criticised (during his time at Liverpool) zonal marking system worked
Chelsea also looked far more organised from set pieces, employing Rafa’s famous zonal marking system effectively. This system helped the shorter, but alert Chelsea players compete well with the taller City players.
City were also lacking the telling ball. Aguero and Toure were often not on the same wavelength. City failed to make their 11 corners count. The Chelsea defense on these occasion was organised slightly differently to what Di Matteo had done. Torres, Ivanovic and Luiz were man marking while Mata and Hazard did it zonally. It was only in stoppage time that the visitors actually won a header in the box.
Implications of the result
1. Rafa Benitez has escaped unscathed, doing what his organisation on the pitch suggested, i.e, not getting beaten. He doesn’t have much time to breathe, though.
2. The difficulty of getting onside with the hostile stamford bridge crowd was highlighted. Only wins would do it, one fears.
3. Not catastrophic for City, although currently second to United in the table. Their exit from Europe could be a blessing in disguise, as it would allow them to concentrate solely on the Premier league, especially if they don’t make the Europa league either.
4. If people couldn’t see what WBA were up to, well, now they can. Sitting pretty above Chelsea.
Graphs and statistics via squawka.com, tactical illustration made on footballtactics.net