What a result. More importantly though, what a performance. It was hard for a lot of City fans to get excited and be positive about this game, given the injury news that has come to light over the course of the week. No Mendy, no Agüero – but guess what? No problem.
City were dominant from beginning to end and controlled every aspect of the game both offensively and defensively. This a marquee result for the side, as it shows how far they have come since the home defeat to Chelsea last season that derailed their momentum. The cherry on top is that is the first time as a coach that Pep has managed to beat Chelsea within ninety minutes. The perfect afternoon, wouldn’t you say?
Counter-Attack Prevention Has Been Much Improved
When you think back to previous encounters with Chelsea (and any other big team really) last season then a familiar pattern occurs. Lots of fantastic play with the ball, but it all gets undone by sloppiness when attempting to defend the counter-attacks. Today though, that problem was virtually non-existent. Aside from the opening exchanges when Morata’s smooth hold-up play threatened to allow Chelsea to push runners beyond the defensive line, City managed to contain and control Chelsea’s attack masterfully.
A lot of credit should be given to both Walker and Delph, who’s ability to recover their positioning upon long switches from Chelsea (plenty of which occurred) meant they could never capitalise on gaps in City’s defence as they moved over to the ball. Moreover, they managed to force the Chelsea wing backs or forwards to dribble backwards and play the ball centrally – away from their preferred areas to create chances from.
This should provide a huge boost to the confidence of all City fans. If the team can shut down arguably the best counter-attacking team in the league and break down their defense consistently, then it is going to be extremely hard for any team to prevent us from winning.
Sterling Goes From Strength to Strength
The improvement of Raheem Sterling seems to be accelerating week by week. Every time he takes to the pitch, he looks increasingly dangerous with his dribbling. One thing that I would like to focus on is his improvement as a “needle player”. A needle player is someone who excels at receiving the ball in tight spaces and breaking away from their markers. Sterling was phenomenal in this regard and had the beating of Alonso and Azpilicueta all evening. Having the ability to give him the ball and have him consistently break away from his marker generated plenty of advantageous situations for City to use. This ability will only serve the team well when coming up against teams with a similarly passive approach to defending. Dribbling and attracting extra players to your location is an invaluable tool in breaking down a deep defensive block and Sterling is providing that outlet at a fantastically high level right now.
De Bruyne Cements Himself as a Complete Midfielder
It’s clear to see why Pep often eulogises about the Belgian and his performance today exemplified why Pep thinks he’s one of the best players he’s ever seen. De Bruyne did everything over the course of the ninety minutes this evening. His passing, dribbling and even his tackling was phenomenal. This is what sets him apart from the rest of the elite playmakers in the league – he simply has much more to his game. It’s part of what made him such a joy to watch during this game, he was all over the pitch contributing in every phase of play and was central to almost everything that City created. This level of contribution should not be overlooked and I feel not enough credit is being given to the great strides De Bruyne is making on the defensive side of his game. Of course, he’s never going to be a “destroyer” in the middle of the park, but having someone who can at least alleviate the defensive burden from Fernandinho, if only a little, can only be a good thing for the team.
The fact he got the winning goal against the team that shunned him and refused to acknowledge his obviously massive level of talent makes the result all the sweeter. It was a typical De Bruyne goal as well, strong running and combining sweetly with a forward before launching a fierce strike past the keeper. Hopefully the injury that forced him off at the end is nothing too serious, as losing him before the Napoli game will be a huge blow.