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The simple tactic which saw Man City obliterate Chelsea in 25 stunning minutes


On Sunday, Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City team inflicted Chelsea’s heaviest-ever Premier League defeat by scoring six without reply at the Etihad.

The narrative surrounding the build-up to the contest suggested a competitive match between two attractive footballing sides, but once play got underway, one team significantly exposed the other.

Interestingly, despite scoring an incredible six goals, there was one consistent tactical theme throughout the entirety of the match that allowed the home side to assert their dominance. In order to demonstrate exactly how Guardiola’s plan disturbed Chelsea, let’s delve into each individual goal.

Firstly, it’s important to highlight the pressing approach implemented by Maurizio Sarri. His team was brave but also naive, and proactive but also vulnerable. Below, the key aspect of his approach is shown.

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Sarri’s midfield lines up wrong – and City take advantage

Sarri instructed his two outer central midfielders, Ross Barkley and N’Golo Kante, to situationally close down City’s centre backs, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte. By encouraging them to do so though, meant that space opened up in the areas that they had vacated.

 

The areas in question are known in modern terms as half-spaces, and Guardiola has relentlessly utilised that area of the field since arriving in Manchester in 2016. The half-spaces are essentially the two corridors situated in between the centre of the pitch and the flanks.

The Spaniard instructs his outer midfielders, usually the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo and Ilkay Gundogan, to drift into such spaces to cause the opposing team problems, as shown below.

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City exploit the space Chelsea have vacated
City exploit the space Chelsea have vacated

This utilisation of the half-spaces allowed Guardiola’s champions to ultimately win the match by scoring four goals in the first 25 minutes.

 

Goal 1

City’s first goal derived from a set-piece and involved Marcos Alonso carelessly leaving Bernardo unattended. However, City initially won that set piece by progressing into the final third using the aforementioned half-space, with Barkley high up the field having pressed, as shown below.

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Barkley's press leaves De Bruyne in space
Barkley’s press leaves De Bruyne in space

In the graphic, Kyle Walker passed to Bernardo, and he played the ball to De Bruyne with his first touch, De Bruyne drove forward into the space that Barkley had vacated, and Jorginho fouled him as a result, shown below.

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Jorginho fouls De Bruyne after City break through the half-space
Jorginho fouls De Bruyne after City break through the half-space

Goal 2

For the second goal – Sergio Aguero’s screamer from distance – City again initially entered the final third using the half-space, but due to Kante’s pressing this time rather than Barkley, as shown below. Fernandinho was able to play into his striker’s feet due to Kante’s attempts to close down.

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Kante doesn't manage to get the pressing right
Kante doesn’t manage to get the pressing right – and City pounce

The player to receive the pass this time around was Aguero instead of Gundogan. The Argentine then turned and played the ball to Oleksandr Zinchenko, who then played it back to Aguero for the striker to shoot.

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Aguero is found in space
Aguero is found in space

Goal 3

For the third goal, once again, the same problem was presented to Chelsea. The chance again came from a set-piece, but that was again won as a result of City entering the final third using the half-space. As shown below, Laporte has the ball and Kante vacates his position to close him down. The French defender then simply passes into the space that Kante has left and finds Aguero.

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City pass through Chelsea's midfield again
City pass through Chelsea’s midfield again

Aguero then spins Antonio Rudiger and is ultimately fouled by David Luiz because he was progressing dangerously towards goal, as shown below. City then scored during the second phase of the resulting free-kick.

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City have Chelsea's defence exposed
City have Chelsea’s defence exposed

Goal 4

Then, for the fourth goal, City once again moved into the final third by progressing through the half-space. As shown in the graphic below, Laporte has the ball at his feet and Chelsea’s midfield three, but namely Kante, are moving towards the ball to press the space. That permits Laporte to find Aguero once more in the same area as before.

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Aguero pulls off the midfield and finds space again
Aguero pulls off the midfield and finds space again

Aguero then turned and shot after a link-up with Raheem Sterling, and the blocked shot came to Gundogan on the edge of the box, who hit into the bottom corner.

Conclusion

Overall, Guardiola’s exploitation of the half-spaces provided Sarri’s Chelsea with the ultimate tactical problem. The opposing team wanted to press and continued to do so for the large majority of the match, but as a result, allowed City to consistently enter the final third of the pitch.

The access that City manipulated ultimately led to the first four goals being scored inside the first 25 minutes, which effectively ended the match before half-time.

 



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