Dissecting Chelsea's job on Man City and why it is bad news for Thiago Silva

Dissecting Chelsea's job on Man City and why it is bad news for Thiago Silva

Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham team were a thorn in the side of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and his Chelsea side have also proved something of a scourge this season.

Following a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge in which City were destabilised defensively, Pochettino has solid claims to have won the tactical battle in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad.

Chelsea sliced through the Treble winners with alarming ease on the counter-attack, even if City can point to a hat-trick of missed chances from Erling Haaland.

Pochettino will be heartened by his team’s performance, which bodes well for next Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley.

The result means Liverpool and Arsenal gained ground on City in the Premier League title race. Telegraph Sport analyses how Chelsea produced one of their most creditable displays of the season.

Moving on from Thiago Silva

Pochettino left Thiago Silva on the bench for Chelsea’s impressive FA Cup victory at Aston Villa, and here was further evidence that Chelsea might be better off without their 39-year-old central defender.

Silva is one of the finest defenders of his generation, but in the autumn of his career he likes to drop off and see the game in front of him.

This poses a problem for Pochettino, whose best teams have been built on aggressive pressing from the front. For this out-of-possession approach to be effective, your central defenders need to squeeze up the pitch to prevent the units of the team tearing apart.

With Silva ruled out through injury, Pochettino paired Axel Disasi with Levi Colwill. Given how City monopolise the ball, this was never going to be a contest in which Chelsea’s defence could play high per se, but their shape was certainly more compact than we have seen in some of their lower moments this season. Their back four stayed connected to midfielders Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo, rather than leaving them on an island.

Every so often an injury absence can see a manager stumble into picking the right team, and this may have been one such case for Chelsea.

Chelsea defender Axel Disasi during their draw at Manchester City
Axel Disasi was magnificent at the back for Chelsea and was celebrating clearanbces - Getty Images/Darren Staples

City unusually top heavy

Guardiola prizes control and dominating from the centre of the pitch, so it was strange to see City’s shape sometimes resemble a 4-2-4 when they attacked, with full-backs staying wide.

Picking a team featuring Haaland, Julian Alvarez, Phil Foden and Jeremy Doku was a statement of intent but effectively meant that City were playing with four forwards. With Kevin De Bruyne also playing high, it left Rodri as the only orthodox midfielder. Situationally, Manuel Akanji or Alvarez were alongside him as a pair, but neither is a specialist midfielder.

“Our rhythm was not proper,” Guardiola said. “You have to play 90 minutes at the top level, and we only did that for one half.”

City’s “rhythm” tends to come from how they circulate the ball, and they looked like a team missing a Bernardo Silva or Ilkay Gundogan figure to be the glue between Rodri and De Bruyne. If it was an attempt to blow Chelsea off the pitch with firepower, it backfired.

Much to the frustration of some City fans, Guardiola also decided to use Foden wide right with Alavrez in the pocket, and both players struggled to influence the game during the first half.

Manchester City (lighter blue) average positions vs Chelsea

Chelsea and Manchester City average positions
Chelsea and Manchester City average positions

Chelsea’s pace exposes City’s fluid backline

Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling repeatedly found themselves on the shoulder of City’s defence facing green grass while their team-mates had time on the ball.

When City build play, Guardiola likes one of his back four to move alongside Rodri, forming a 3-2 shape. Earlier in his City reign, that player was a full-back such as Joao Cancelo or Oleksandr Zinchenko, while last season it was John Stones from centre-back. In the moments when City are transitioning between shapes, they can be vulnerable.

Against Chelsea, Akanji deputised in the Stones role and he is not as smooth as the Englishman (no defender is at this particular assignment).

When Akanji is in midfield, Ruben Dias is left to man the heart of City’s defence as a lone centre-half, with Kyle Walker wider to his right and Nathan Ake to his left. Dias endured a rough outing in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge, where he conceded a penalty, and found it difficult to cope with Chelsea’s central running power provided by Conor Gallagher and Jackson.

Gallagher had the engine to break off City’s midfield and join the forward line while City had bodies pushed forward. Jackson’s ball-carrying created Chelsea’s goal, scored by Sterling, and he was a constant threat. Perhaps seeking to exploit Doku’s defensive capabilities, Chelsea directed most of their attacks down the right flank.

Chelsea’s attacking thirds vs Man City

Chelsea's attacking thirds vs Manchester City
Chelsea's attacking thirds vs Manchester City

Chelsea’s outstanding individuals: Gallagher, Gusto and Disasi

Gallagher was excellent in midfield and showed exactly why Chelsea supporters do not want to see him sold, least of all to Spurs. He was one of the few Chelsea players to fully last the pace as City turned the screw in the final 20 minutes, having been tasked with shadowing Rodri and blocking passing lanes into the Spaniard throughout the game.

Gusto had a difficult task up against Doku, but excelled when faced up one-on-one. Doku completed just three of seven take-ons, while no player won more tackles than Gusto’s five. Reece James’ ongoing injury problems have tested Chelsea’s right-back depth, but they look to have found a promising player in Gusto.

Chelsea’s outstanding defender though was Disasi, who was celebrating clearances as early as the first half. The Frenchman made 17 clearances overall, the most by any Chelsea player in a Premier League match for eight years. Gusto made the second-most in the game with eight.

Disasi has been erratic during his first season in England, but relished the backs-to-the-wall defensive test that this game became.