Chelsea bounced back from their surprise defeat to Crystal Palace with a vital victory over rivals Man City. This tightly contested fixture saw goalkeeping errors cancel each other out as Eden Hazard just about made the difference to edge his side closer to the title.
For Pep Guardiola, this, along with the draw at Arsenal on Sunday, would have reaffirmed his thinking that his squad needs a lot of work. His defence continues to lack consistency, preventing the Citizens from joining Europe’s elite.
For the second consecutive match, Chelsea saw a change in personnel within their back-six due to Victor Moses’ injury. Prior to last Saturday’s loss, Antonio Conte’s side enjoyed a 22-league-game-streak without any alterations to their defence.
This time, the Italian manager opted for a more defensive adjustment with Pedro returning to his natural position and César Azpilicueta filling in at right-wing-back. That saw Kurt Zouma make his first league start of the season as one of the three central defenders.
Pep Guardiola continued with Jesús Navas as an unconventional right-back, while like Zouma, Fabian Delph made his first start of the season in place of Raheem Sterling. The former Aston Villa midfielder only misplaced six passes out of 103 (93.2% pass completion), five of which were in the attacking third.
There was also the long-awaited return of Vincent Kompany who was making his first league appearance since the 2-1 win at Palace in mid-November.
For all the attacking quality that was on display, the first two goals were the outcome of goalkeeping mistakes.
Hazard’s 10th minute opener was the result of Willy Caballero’s lapse in concentration as the Belgian’s tame side-footed effort took a slight deflection off international teammate Kompany. Caballero claimed to have been slightly unsighted but his reactions, or lack thereof, suggested he should have done better.
Just over quarter of an hour later, Man City were level as Silva and Sergio Aguero capitalised on an uncharacteristic mistake by Thibaut Courtois. Belgium’s number one under hit a chipped pass which went straight to Silva who saw his driven effort parried into Aguero’s path for an easy tap-in.
But with 35 minutes played, Chelsea restored their lead after Fernandinho brought down Pedro in the area. Caballero temporarily redeemed himself having saved Hazard’s penalty but the Argentinian goalkeeper couldn’t prevent the rebound.
Possession v Control
This fixture saw Chelsea finish with their lowest possession at home this season (39.5%). As a result, only Eden Hazard reached double-figures (10) for attacking third passes. Half as many as Man City’s left-back, Gaël Clichy.
David Silva created six chances, three in each half. Although, in the second half, two of them were from set-pieces following the introduction of Nemanja Matic for Zouma at half-time. This restricted the spaces between Chelsea’s defence and midfield.
Silva was encouraged further forwards by the midfield duo of Delph and Fernandinho. Delph finished with a game high 11 ball recoveries as well as the most tackles (four out of six) and joint-top interceptions (four) and fouls suffered (four).
But aside from the goal, Courtois was only really tested soon after Aguero’s equaliser when he rushed out to close down Leroy Sané’s clipped attempt.
In the second-half, City did come close via a couple of crosses. First with Kompany looping header landing on the bar and then his centre-back partner, John Stones, getting slightly ahead of the ball when a corner reached him six-yards from goal in injury-time.
Hazardous for City
The 2014/15 Players’ Player and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year has enjoyed another successful campaign having struggled to repeat his form during Mourinho’s final months in charge last season. Hazard’s brace on Wednesday brought his total to 13 league goals, just one shy of the tally he achieved when Chelsea won the title two seasons ago.
Guardiola and his side will be happy to see the back of Hazard who also scored the third at The Etihad to seal their 3-1 victory in early-December.
Once again, he was an influential figure having finished second for chances created (3), take ons (3/4) and fouls suffered (3). He also claimed the joint-most interceptions (4) and third highest recoveries (7), highlighting the forward’s defensive side to his game.
Etihad v Stamford Bridge
Chelsea ran out victorious in both fixtures this season, yet it would be fair to argue that Guardiola’s City were the better side on each occasion. But their failure to convert chances and ball possession into wins has been symbolic throughout the Spanish manager’s debut season in England.
The table below compares the two matches which highlights how efficiently Chelsea operate compared to their possession-based opponents:
There are plenty of similarities to be drawn from the above comparison, including:
– Possession stats nearly identical.
– Passes in general and the attacking third very much alike.
– Man City creating more chances and attempting more shots than Chelsea.
– Man City attempting far more crosses without great success.
But the key difference is seen in both sides’ conversion rates. Chelsea are comfortably in the double figures while Man City barely got above 7%. This is in part due to the quality of opportunities with Chelsea enjoying easier chances on the counter-attack. They relinquish the ball which encourages City to commit more players during attacks and therefore have more players out of position once possession is turned over. This was particularly evident at The Etihad with all three goals created from long-direct passes.
Guardiola will need to address this issue as his side is likely to remain top of the possession charts in future seasons. Their vulnerability to counter-attacks is an issue which an ageing defence is struggling to overcome – see Romelu Lukaku’s equaliser for Everton at The Etihad.
Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp once stated, “If you aren’t an option, then you should be protection.” The former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich managers could both do with drilling that mentality into their current teams.
Whilst Man City managed to have double the amount of shots on goal than Chelsea concede on average, their defensive frailties continue to hinder any progress under Guardiola. Their next match is at home to a rejuvenated Hull City, which won’t be easy given the impressive impact Marco Silva has had since arriving in January.
Conte, on the other hand, has enjoyed a great first season at Chelsea which has been helped by very few injuries to his first-team. In Hazard, the Italian manager has one of the season’s best performers whose contributions to their success have been enhanced by the tireless efforts of N’Golo Kante in central midfield. That has allowed Hazard the freedom to take on opponents as he ranks second in the league for dribbles per game (4.4).
Chelsea travel to Bournemouth – who secured a late draw at Anfield on Wednesday – seeking the first three of the 18-points they need to guarantee a fifth Premier League title in 12 years. Based on the efficiency of their performances this season, The Blues will do it with two-games to spare.
EPL Results (Gameweek 31):
Burnley 1-0 Stoke
Leicester 2-0 Sunderland
Watford 2-0 West Brom
Man Utd 1-1 Everton
Arsenal 3-0 West Ham
Hull 4-2 Middlesbrough
Southampton 3-1 Crystal Palace
Swansea 1-3 Tottenham
Chelsea 2-1 Man City
Liverpool 2-2 Bournemouth