Man City’s Plan A appeared to fail at Chelsea – it was Plan C that worked in the end

If Manchester City This season is to be won Premier LeagueAs the bookmakers’ odds have always suggested, then this round of Premier League fixtures can be remembered as an example of why.

While Arsenal could not break the deadlock against Newcastle Tuesday at the Emirates — with Mikel Arteta’s only substitution involves a right-back – Pep Guardiola had the squad depth Arteta could only dream of for Chelsea’s trip to Manchester City. In the end, Guardiola used almost three different sides, his Plan C proving decisive.

On paper, Guardiola’s Plan A was completely conventional – a back four, a midfield three, and Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva Both sides Erling Haaland up ahead. Guardiola being Guardiola, of course, it was somewhat more complicated. The defensive fluidity we have seen in recent games was maintained Rhodri Playing as half defender, half midfielder.

It was mean Nathan AK and Kyle Walker Most were on both sides John Stones In the back three, while Joao Cancelo Wasn’t in the left-pack, suspiciously, but used on the right wing instead. It was a curious move, but Guardiola probably decided he wanted a right-footer to stretch the game, and given the other options – Bernardo, Riyad Mahrez, Foden – is left-footed, Cancelo was considered the obvious choice. Last season, Guardiola might have used it Gabriel Jesus or Raheem Sterling.

Cancelo struggled in the first half despite John Stones or Rodri constantly feeding the ball. Here is a good example. He has space both in front and behind, Mark CucurellaHowever, his real work is waiting for support Kevin De Bruyne. Cancelo dribbles inside, waits for De Bruyne’s run, but then underhits a pass intercepted by Cucurella.

Chelsea It coped well against the threat, with Mateo Kovacic De Bruyne usually drops back into the channel to track down. Cancelo, though, just couldn’t get his angle right.

On this occasion, he brings the ball into a position where it is almost impossible to play on De Bruyne, but still plays a pass, which is intercepted by Cucurella.

Here’s an occasion where De Bruyne timed his run well and got past Kovacic, and the angle of the pass is there. However, Cancelo doesn’t play him, and instead overhits the cross.

And this moment, 15 minutes later, summed up the confusion right below the city. Walker heads a goal kick for Cancelo and sprints beyond him, but Cancelo parries the ball away. Cucurella nips in and Chelsea are on the attack.

City also had problems without the ball. In this game last season Their counter-pressing was as effective as any game under GuardiolaBut here the positional confusion means they often stand out.

When Chelsea win the ball on the edge of their own box, you’d normally expect Rodri to jump forward and press. But with his work falling into defense without possession, he feels the need to step back. Other midfielders are not as effective in close downs and Kovacic leaves them with ease.

And while, in theory, Rodrigo’s hybrid role was useful for stopping Kai Havertz Drifting between the lines, that didn’t prove to be the case. Here, he is left free to receive a forward pass Dennis Zacharias

… and plays Carney Chukwuemeka, whose low drive hit the post. This close shave probably convinced Guardiola to revert to Plan B.

Both right-backs, Walker and Cancelo, were substituted at half-time. came to Rico Lewis Right back and Manuel Akanji At centre-back, which meant Stones was moving to the right, Rodri was permanently playing as a midfielder and Bernardo was moving out to the right.

returned to the city An approach they used in their impressive 3-1 win at Leeds, with Lewis playing as a half-back Along with Rodri in midfield.

The main advantage was that City’s structure was more clear without possession, and they successfully pressed to create five turnovers deep in the opposition half in the first six minutes of the second half, as Chelsea found themselves unable to play forward from defence.

City also looked more intimidating when it came to playing on De Bruyne. Bernardo’s pass from behind was slightly overhit, but it’s the type of move Cancelo seems unable to facilitate.

And whereas Cancelo lacked the guile that caused Cucurella serious problems, Bernardo offered more. He beats Cucurella twice here, before playing a pull-back to fire wide for De Bruyne.

And then came Plan C, when Guardiola replaced both wide players. Bernardo was a bit unlucky to withdraw, but Foden on the left was calm. came to Jack Grealish and Mahrez, the pair who had started City’s previous two games.

in victory Leeds, they were particularly effective at running to the far post when the other had the ball, providing a goal-scoring threat in that area. Grealish’s finishing in that game was pretty poor, but the thought was clearly there.

This move will pay off. But first, City actually benefited from De Bruyne’s disastrous mix-up Ilke Gundogan. Gundogan played a backward pass as De Bruyne attempted his usual run down the channel – both caught in front of the ball and Chelsea launched the attack. Ederson To sweep miles out of your goal.

But it was good for City. Gundogan ran back and got to the right, leaving De Bruyne on the left. And it was beneficial because it had more space down nearby, thanks Hakim JiyechMinimum defensive contribution. De Bruyne threatened with his usual overlapping run, this time around Grealish, before firing a cross at the far post.

And then came the goal. Note Chelsea’s defensive shape – it’s supposed to be two lines of four, but Ziyech is completely out of the picture. De Bruyne therefore has more space on the left than he finds on the right.

its meaning Cesar Azpilicueta Sucks in and leaves space outside for Grealish, who rolls the ball perfectly into a corridor of uncertainty for Mahrez to run at the far post.

“I’m a genius,” Guardiola later joked when asked about the double substitution of Grealish and Mahrez, less than four minutes before they scored the winner. But he knew it was more complicated and his initial tactical surprise was reversed.

“Today was not good, for my decision to leave two players out of position,” he admitted. “And I say thank you to Joao and Rodri for trying to play those positions, but I imagined a different kind of game, especially if they played five at the back. But it wasn’t a good first half, we were slow, we didn’t create much. Our pressing It was very weak, we were not organized.

“Today, after 20 minutes, I realized that I didn’t like what I saw. So why should I wait? I had to change something. Everyone saw it, from the first minute of the second half, there was a completely different Manchester City, a different rhythm, A different game, everyone improved, everyone in their position.

Guardiola essentially accepted regular accusations of ‘overthinking’. But while he has many options, if his plan A doesn’t work, there’s always plan B and plan C. City’s next game is this weekend, against the same opposition. Knowing Guardiola, we can probably expect a Plan D.

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