The 1-3 home loss to Chelsea hit Manchester City hard and their being hurt was demonstrated by the reckless behaviour from Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Kelechi Iheanacho, etc. at the end of the 90′. Amid the disappointment and chaos, Pep Guardiola remained calm and spoke the right words in his post-match press conference: “We didn’t win because we missed a lot of chances, not because of the referee.” And, Guardiola’s was a fair assessment of how City had fared against a team who had won their last seven games on the trot in the Premier League.
For 59 minutes, City had dominated Chelsea and the 1-0 scoreline then, as a result, was one of travesty. Aguero, on his own, had four or five clear chances that he might have made the most of and put City in the driver’s seat… on another day. And, while the scoreline read 1-0, a Manchester City fan could not have breathed easy, given that Guardiola’s men had dropped four points from the same—not similar—positions in their league meetings against Everton and Middlesbrough at the Etihad Stadium.
City’s attackers provided a stringent examination of the Chelsea backline, who had conceded just one goal in their seven wins, heading into the clash against the then third-placed City. David Luiz had a good game, overall, but the same cannot be said about Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, who scored an own goal to actually give City the lead, and even Chelsea’s wingbacks, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.
After the early exchanges, when Diego Costa and Eden Hazard posed the City defence quite a few problems and even went close on a couple of occasions to give Chelsea the lead, City settled into a nice rhythm and in possession, they were really smooth and carved the West Londoners open on numerous occasions.
Fernandinho was instrumental in City not allowing Chelsea to have the ball for more than a few moments after a turnover and stifling the visitors from pressing forward and keeping the City defenders honest. The Brazilian midfielder’s energy, awareness to danger and intelligence in possession were rather conspicuous. At times, he got himself into the box as well, to create an overload on Chelsea’s right and pose problems for Moses and Azpilicueta.
Equally as commendable was Leroy Sane, who has yet to endear himself to Manchester City fans in the few hundreds of minutes he has played since making the switch from Schalke.
But Sane’s performance in the eventual 1-3 defeat for City, will likely go a long way in him feeling confident and producing even better end products in the future games. Sane, who completed all three of his attempted take-ons, could so easily have registered a couple of assists. On the flip side, could Sane have been a bit more proactive and gutsy and gone for the goal himself, on the occasions he squared the ball to Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, City’s two primary goalscorers who did not have their shooting boots on? He could very well have.
Yesterday’s performance from Aguero was very unlike of him, as you expect him to deliver the goods in these sorts of games and especially after he had gotten his confidence back, from scoring a brace in the 1-2 win over Burnley last weekend. He made plenty of wrong decisions throughout and that, despite having gotten himself into perfect positions to breach Thibaut Courtois: a missed header and a weak left-footed shot which was blocked by Azpilicueta in the first 45′ were followed by another couple of weak attempts in the second half from Aguero, who took out his palpable frustration on Luiz at the end of the game.
From the Argentine’s perspective, though, his performance against Chelsea epitomised the kind of season he’s having: lethal and opportune in one game, and wasteful and uncharacteristic in the very next.
In the build-up to the game, Chelsea’s 3-4-3 had gotten really rave reviews and even after Chelsea’s 1-3 win at the Etihad, the reactions such as the one below give the vibe that their formation had confounded City and was the reason for their win, which are fallacies. And, in reality, credit should be given to Guardiola for being proactive, audacious and really nullifying Chelsea with a 3-4-3 of his own. City had a plethora of chances to score goals and they should really have been at least 3-0 up by the time Chelsea equalised through Diego Costa, who is now the joint top-scorer (11 goals) in the Premier League along with Alexis Sanchez.
Chelsea’s Premier League form since switching to 3-4-3:
Clean sheets: 6
All part of Conte’s masterplan. pic.twitter.com/xNSZyNe7C5
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 3, 2016
The reason I credit Guardiola is for the way he came up with a gameplan that nullified Chelsea. City, as they were expected to, dominated possession, but more importantly, they were incisive when they had the ball. Their ability to retain possession and find space on the flanks and in between the lines, caught Chelsea out on numerous occasions and as aforementioned, whenever a turnover occurred, City had three or four players hounding the Chelsea man on the ball and trying to win the ball back. Jesus Navas might never get the credit because of his tendencies, but he supplied some dangerous balls from the right flank and was the reason why City were a goal to the good going into the last 31′.
A cricket score wasn’t entirely out of the question for Manchester City, who could, if their supreme attacking players had been clinical and on their game, so easily have scored four, five or even six goals.
This was another classic case of Manchester City faltering not because of Guardiola’s philosophy or a way of setting them up, but the tentativeness of their attacking players and their failure to be clinical in the opposition box. City played out a similar game in October, a month when their downturn in form began, at the Camp Nou, where they lost 4-0 without really playing badly. Barcelona had raced into a 1-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes, but Guardiola’s City had clear-cut chances to score at the other hand in the first half and the picture could well have been different if they had, just as the 1-3 defeat to Chelsea might have been if not for the fluffed chances to score goals.
City, having slipped to fourth place and four points (30) behind Premier League leaders Chelsea (34), face a really tough month from here on, with Leicester City (away), Watford (home), Arsenal (home), Hull City (away), and Liverpool (away) to be played. This is going to be a tough month firstly because the quintet of fixtures coming up are going to be really testing on their own and secondly, Guardiola will be without Aguero for four of those Premier League fixtures and Fernandinho for three, after the duo received straight red cards from referee Anthony Taylor, who failed to get many of his decisions right.
In my opinion, yesterday’s defeat to Chelsea is the biggest low of City’s season so far. But will a soul-crushing defeat as yesterday’s prove to be the culmination of Manchester City’s prolonged profligacy in front of goal, evident by their tally of 11 goals ‘scored’ from 91 chances created in the last eight Premier League fixtures alone, and spark a transformation? Well… if Guardiola’s attackers continue to be profligate, City will be out of the title race sooner than later.