Manchester City suffered their heaviest loss in the Premier League this season against Chelsea last weekend while the Blues extended their winning streak to eight games, their longest league winning streak in a decade. It was a game watched by millions of fans around the world, not only because it was a crucial early encounter in the title race but also the first face-to-face clash between two of the best managers in world football.
As two sets of players clashed in the final minutes of the games caused by a nasty challenge from Sergio Agüero, which led to red cards for the Argentinian and incensed midfielder Fernandinho, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola – two talented coaches with distinctive football philosophies – have begun what promises to be a long rivalry.
But with more clear chances and dominant possession, Guardiola had reason to bemoan his luck after the match. Chelsea showed their great resilience and confidence in the game, scoring three goals in the second half with trade-mark quick counter-attacks. This match was reminiscent of a classic European Champions league game between Guardiola’s former club, Barcelona, against Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho in 2010. Not only were the games similar tactically, even the scoreboard read the same!
To counter Chelsea’s formidable new three defender system, which sees Marco Alonso and Victor Moses playing at the wing back position, Guardiola surprisingly deployed a similar formation — Jon Stones, Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov played at the back, while Leroy Sané and Jesús Navas played in the same wing back system as the Blues. The formation caused some trouble for the visitors — but not enough to hit them hard.
It was the first time Guardiola has used a three defender system with Manchester City and obviously he wanted to use wing backs to limit the space of the Blues on both flanks. It showed great tactical awareness by the City players, but the problem is, they were never going to outplay Chelsea using this system because Conte has been using it since September.
Statistics showed that Guardiola has changed his line-up 46 times in their first 14 games — the most in the league. By contrast, Conte has stuck with his starting 11, making only one change in their previous seven leagues. Sometimes, a stable line-up and formation can bring great benefit as Leicester City showed last season. Frequent changes in formation and personnel is a double edged sword as it can keep the squad fresh, but as in Manchester City’s case can also lead to a lack of cohesion.