Manchester City exorcised their Chelsea demons this evening with a completely dominant performance to secure progression to the FA Cup quarter finals.
Pellegrini held firm with his usual 4-4-2 shape, despite the criticism that it received in the wake of the League clash between these two sides. The personnel was tweaked slightly however – James Milner, fielded in the middle against Norwich in midweek, started on the right in place of Jesus Navas. Martin Demichelis dropped out of the slot beside Yaya Touré in the centre, with Javi Garcia fielded in his stead. Joleon Lescott came in at the back for Mateja Nastasic. Stevan Jovetic began the game up top in place of Alvaro Negredo. Gael Clichy beat Kolarov to the left back slot and Costel Pantillimon returned in goal.
Chelsea again fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation. David Luiz, fielded in midfield in the league game, partnered Gary Cahill at the back, with Jon Obi Mikel taking his place alongside Nemanja Matic.
City’s biggest problem against Chelsea a fortnight ago was their inability to deal with Chelsea’s counter attacking threat. City on numerous occasions were guilty of committing too many men forward in attack, only to be subsequently overrun and outnumbered by Chelsea’s marauding attacking midfielders when possession was lost. Martin Demichelis was often left stranded in front of his defence in that game, and although he tried manfully, he lacked the mobility to compensate for a lack of support in his zone.
To illustrate how dominant Chelsea’s AMs were in that game on the break, Eden Hazard made a whopping 11 successful dribbles over the course of it. His colleague Willian managed 7 key passes. The away side hit the woodwork 3 times and were unlucky not to post a more emphatic final scoreline.
City immediately showed this evening that they had learned their lesson. They were far more cautious positionally, dropping back quickly into shape after losing possession and only engaging Chelsea after the halfway line. This meant that Willian, Ramires and Hazard were denied the space in front of them that they had previously frolicked in. All three fell victim to intense pressing from City’s midfield and defence. By half-time, Willian had been dispossessed twice and lost possession through a poor touch 3 times. The equivalent figures for Hazard were 2 and 2. Eto’o was dispossessed three times, with Vincent Kompany coming aggressively up the pitch to harry him. Ramires’ figures were 1 and 2, and the Brazilian only managed to attempt 13 passes in the whole first 45, completing a mere 62% of them.
Not only did City shut down Chelsea’s attacking threat, they also enhanced their own. Key to Chelsea’s success in the previous clash, was the way in which they stymied David Silva. Mindful of the fact that the Spaniard likes to drift in from the left to dangerous central areas, Chelsea formed a defensive triangle around him with Ivanovic, Luiz and Ramires (who was fielded in a very narrow right side of midfield role). Nemanja Matic was also there, deeper and to the right on the cover, if Silva escaped their attention.
This evening Mikel was in Luiz’s role, and his performance was nothing short of disastrous. Time and time again, City found space in the pocket behind him. For the first goal, Silva received the ball into feet in that area, before feeding Dzeko (who provided the assist). In the 24th minute, Silva got in between the lines in that area again, again fed Dzeko, who tested Cech with a stinging strike. Mikel was also booked late in the first half, as he attempted to compensate for allowing Yaya Toure to escape his attention. He made 4 fouls in total over the course of the game, more than any other player. How he wasn’t substituted is anyone’s guess.
To further illustrate City’s new found positional caution, they only enjoyed 51% of the possession in the first half, compared to a massive 65% over the full 90 minutes in the previous clash. One would have expected that figure to decrease in the second half as City dropped deeper to defend their lead and Chelsea looked to push on. One would have been wrong.
Pellegrini made an inspired substitution on the hour mark. Stevan Jovetic, who had impressed with his lateral movement (particularly for the goal) was removed, with Samir Nasri in his place. City were now more 4-2-3-1 and sported an extra man in the middle. This allowed them to actually increase their control of possession as they impressively and comfortably controlled the remainder of the game, finishing with 56% of the ball at full time.
This, of course, also meant that City had an extra body in the zone in which Chelsea were most struggling – between the lines. The second goal illustrated this perfectly and further damned a certain Nigerian midfielder. That man Mikel was attracted up the field toward the ball, leaving both Silva and Nasri in his zone. They combined beautifully to send this game beyond all doubt (with a lot of help from the linesman of course).
Chelsea’s attacking midfielders were completely nullified by City’s lower block and aggressive midfield pressing. Eden Hazard, so rampant a fortnight ago, made only 3 dribbles this evening (in comparison to 11 in the last game), with none of those coming in the second half. Chelsea’s attack therefore was completely impotent – the side attempted a paltry 3 shots on goal. None hit the target. Mourinho shuffled the deck three times in vain. Salah came on up top for Eto’o at half time in an effort to push City’s defence back and give the trio in behind some space. It didn’t work – Salah had no impact and was shunted to the right fifteen minutes later when the abject Ramires was removed for Torres.
Pellegrini will be delighted with the way in which his side implemented the lessons of the league defeat. Silva was dominant in the first half, and exploited the space behind Mikel brilliantly. Introducing Nasri on the hour mark was a master stroke – it led to the second goal and more broadly, it allowed City to further dominate possession. Yaya Touré came into his own in the second half, as City maximised their new found numerical advantage in the middle, succeeding with 92% of his 85 attempted passes, 5 of his 6 attempted long balls, and demonstrating the powerful dribbling and pressing that has been conspicuous by its absence in certain key games this season.
It was truly a comprehensive tactical victory for the City boss. A particularly sweet one no doubt, given the identity of the man occupying the other technical area.