Years ago now, Antonio Conte claimed Chelsea had to play the way they did after a 1-0 loss to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. That comment and match has since become infamous, matched only by Maurizio Sarri’s gung ho 6-0 loss the following season. But what Conte understood that far too fans did is sometimes you have to minimize the opponent more than you try to maximize yourself, and sometimes that just doesn’t pan out.
Thomas Tuchel has his own story like that now. Chelsea came up against Manchester City with a pragmatic game plan. It almost worked too. For all the possession and pressure City had, Chelsea was holding firm. The goal came from City’s first shot on target in the entire match. Afterwards, the Blues did well to open up and try to push for a win. They were more successful in that endeavor than Spurs were against the Blues just a week ago, but it wasn’t enough.
The plan was working and the reasons for going with that plan made sense. Most of the players capable of playing in the wide forward roles were either out of form or injured. 3-5-2 would allow Chelsea to congest the center and it would leave plenty of space for Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku to connect.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. It was pretty clear early on that Chelsea needed a midfielder capable of getting forward in support. Mason Mount would normally be ideal for this, but his injury proved a blow. It didn’t help matters that Reece James also went out injured, leaving Chelsea with too wingbacks more suited for a possession game than a transitional one. Ben Chilwell’s slow return to his old self made this nearly impossible to avoid.
It’s also worth mentioning that in other matches like this one this season, Chelsea rode their luck until Lukaku or someone else was able to pull something out of thin air. It didn’t work out in the Blues’ favor this time. Part of that was poor execution trying to get out from City’s press. But another, simpler part of it was the Blues simply didn’t have the luck they have had in previous fixtures.
The Blues lost 1-0 at home to City but it wasn’t because the plan was wrong. Sometimes, no matter how right the plan is, things just don’t go your way. Tuchel can point towards not being on a high level or making his own mistakes, but sometimes the right answer is the simplest: it was just one of those days.
The concern now is, at least since the break, Chelsea has been edging closer to these types of days game after game. The Villa and Spurs results were flattering given the game that occurred. The Zenit win and the penalty win over Villa also managed to mask many of the issues the Blues have been having as of late. City was a team poised to take advantage and did just that.
Now the task is to rebound. The loss has finally come. Now the Blues need to find the edge that got them past Spurs, Zenit, and Villa twice despite not being at their best. The loss hurts, but now the Blues can show their creditable and earn it.
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