Matches between Chelsea and Manchester City are generally thrilling, exciting and disappointing. In recent seasons, it has just been one of these… disappointing. That certainly was the case in the 2017/18 and 2018/2019 seasons, under Italian managers Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri.
Chelsea lost under these managers, but it was the manner of the performances that came under scrutiny.
Conte’s Tactics Suffered
The Italian enjoyed two seasons at the club, winning the FA Cup and Premier League during that time. But, Conte was persistent with playing his trademark three at the back formation, and his tactics were exposed by many teams in the 2017/18 season, especially away at Manchester City. The scoreline was only 1-0 to the Champions that season, but, it was Chelsea’s tactics in this defeat which was the talking point.
Conte’s side showed hardly any attacking intent at the Etihad Stadium – instead, they were just praying for a City mistake to let them break on the counter. It was hard to understand why Conte didn’t change things as the game went on, and all his side had to offer was hope. We never looked intent on making anything happen, and it was disappointing to witness such a lacklustre performance.
When you play City, you know you aren’t likely to have the possession too often. Even Conte himself said afterwards that he did not want his players to allow City to have too much space. Well, it worked for a quarter of the game, but for the other three, his approach wasn’t working.
Team Selection played into City’s hands
Eight of the XI that faced City that day won the Premier League in the previous season. However, City’s side offered more in the attack, defence… just all over the pitch in general. You can see why Conte picked the team he did – leaving his two striker options on the bench and asking Chelsea’s most influential player, Eden Hazard, to lead the line. When you play a player of Hazard’s quality upfront, you lose a vital aspect of the counter-attack on the wing, with his pace, tactical awareness, and creative ability.
One of Conte’s summer signings, Danny Drinkwater – a signing that never brought joy amongst Chelsea fans, replaced N’Golo Kante in the XI, who was ill that day. Apart from that, it was the same Chelsea team which drew to Spanish giants Barcelona in the previous month – again letting their opposition dominate possession.
But, the difference with what happened in that game at Stamford Bridge was that Chelsea had much more of a go against Barca. On the night, Chelsea created far more chances than they did against City, and was unlucky not to go into the second-leg with an aggregate lead.
At the Etihad, Chelsea played to City’s strengths and stayed deep relying on a counter-attack, which few occurred. When you come up against a Pep Guardiola team, you know they play many passes and control the flow of the game. The tempo of Chelsea’s performance was nothing short of appalling. At one-nil down, Chelsea dropped deeper as the game went on, and with 15 minutes to go, Fabregas and Willian stood off City’s passing game in which disappointed Chelsea fans.
As experienced a manager that Conte is, this performance at City raised questions on not just the manager’s mentality, but if the players were 100% playing for the manager. Conte was sacked at the end of the 2017/18 season after winning the FA Cup in the last few months of his tenure, but, his side finished fifth in the league that season. As a result of this, Chelsea played last season’s European campaign in the Europa League under a new Italian manager, Maurizio Sarri.
Sarri succeeded his compatriot at Stamford Bridge and became Chelsea’s ninth, full-time manager since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. He arrived from Italy with a reputation as one of the game’s leading coaches, however, the style of play he was trying to implement didn’t prevail. Sarri is unlike the Italian coaches hired in the past. Whereas Conte and Carlo Ancelotti are tailors who cut their cloth accordingly, Sarri has a style and he won’t compromise on it.
This is similar to Guardiola, who needed a year to get to his ideas across, and figure out which players suit his philosophy and those who don’t. Chelsea may have regarded themselves as title rivals last season to City, but if Sarri thought his lowest point had come with a second-half capitulation in the 4-0 loss away at Bournemouth, the Chelsea boss was wrong.
Sarri Ball Became Not-So-Sarri Ball
Sarri’s approach was far different than Conte’s in terms of how his teams set-up. As always, Sarri never compromises his style, even if he ends up on the losing side of a 6-0 demolishing. The concern for him was the fact that owner Roman Abramovich wasn’t happy with the performance and the margin of the defeat. This game could have been a turning point in the season as the Blues were fighting for a top-four finish, instead they were in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification – which they did achieve in the end.
At least some of the players showed a bit of fight compared to the previous season under Conte. Nevertheless, the performance was characterised by how disappointing the defence was that day. Players switching off and making silly mistakes in the build-up for City’s goals was a highlight of how poor the display was.
Sarri’s line-up was a stable one that day. N’Golo Kante was fit to play – arguably the world’s finest holding midfielder. But, Sarri continued to play the French international out of position, and chose ex-Napoli midfielder Jorginho in the holding role. As the season went on, Jorginho couldn’t keep up with the pace of the Premier League and his influence at City wasn’t there. Luckily he has shown this season the qualities he possesses, and why Chelsea paid up to £50m for his services. To sum up, a shocking performance like the 1-0 in the previous season. This one, in particular, got everyone talking on the topic as to whether Sarri is too stubborn to be in the Chelsea hot seat.
Both disappointing performances, though 1-0 Conte display by far the worse
What’s Worse? Annihilation or Surrender?
For me, the 1-0 defeat to City under Antonio Conte in the 2016/17 season, was by far the worst performance I have seen in a few years. Don’t get me wrong, the 6-0 defeat the following year to City was shocking also, at least we showed some sign of fight in that game.
As a Chelsea fan, watching players not want to fight for the badge frustrates not just me, but all Chelsea fans. If the players selected gave their all and lost 5, 6, 7 nil, I think I would be pleased with their efforts. Of course, I would be unsatisfied with the scoreline as everyone involved with Chelsea are so used to winning.
Nevertheless, with 15 minutes to go and only one-nil down, there was still a possibility of getting something out of the match. However, allowing a team of City’s quality to keep the ball, any team they face are in for a tough afternoon. The line-up that day was as good as it could have been, but under Conte that day, he took too long in changing it up and therefore Chelsea suffered. With City always looking at improving year after year, it will be a long way until Chelsea can compete with Guardiola’s side.
Then again under Frank Lampard this season, Chelsea were unlucky to leave the Etihad with nothing as they lost 2-1. An improvement in recent years- hopefully, a change in fortunes for our Chelsea when it comes to playing at City.
Written by: Jordan Bright
Edited by: Martell Dublin