Manchester City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League came to an end at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening as Chelsea ran out 2-0 winners.
Both managers decided – at least, initially – to play their talismanic wide players as false nines in west London, with Eden Hazard and Raheem Sterling leading the lines for their respective clubs.
We’ll explore how both premium players fared in unorthodox roles, as well as rounding up the goals, assists, Fantasy talking points, manager quotes and injury news from a match that just perhaps kept Chelsea in the title race.
Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City
- Goals: N’Golo Kante (£4.9m), David Luiz (£5.6m)
- Assists: Eden Hazard (£10.9m) x2
There was plenty of speculation ahead of Saturday’s clash at Stamford Bridge about which two wide players Pep Guardiola would perm for Manchester City’s trip to Chelsea.
Ever full of surprises, the City manager decided to deploy all three of Raheem Sterling (£11.6m), Leroy Sane (£9.5m) and Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m) in his frontline, with Gabriel Jesus (£10.1m) making way.
None of that trio particularly shone against Maurizio Sarri’s side, if truth be told, even if the visitors utterly dominated the first half and fell behind totally against the run of play.
Sterling had an excellent chance early on when a deflected cross found him eight yards out, but his scuffed effort trundled apologetically at Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.5m) and with that effort went the England winger’s only real opportunity of the game.
Sterling had gravitated towards the right flank as the game wore on – swapping with Mahrez – and got the better of Marcos Alonso (£7.0m) on more than one occasion, before being shunted to the left flank when Jesus was sent on for Sane on 53 minutes.
The former Liverpool winger was brighter than the disappointing Sane and Mahrez but his goal threat seemed to suffer as a result of the tactical tweaks, with Jesus and Sane registering as many or more penalty box touches as Sterling despite having their minutes managed.
Sane was Guardiola’s scapegoat when being hooked just eight minutes into the second half but Mahrez arguably had the poorer match and the Algerian himself was sacrificed with the clock ticking down.
The German winger at least had a decent opportunity saved by Kepa in the first half, while Mahrez’s only effort was a shot that was blocked at source.
Some perspective needs to be given here: Mahrez, Sane and Sterling had all delivered double-digit hauls in one of the three Gameweeks preceding this one and they will seldom be up against meaner defences than this, with Chelsea’s backline performing admirably and not allowing the Citizens a single “big chance” all game.
Sergio Aguero‘s (£11.2m) presence and clinical finishing was perhaps missed but Guardiola was happy with his side’s display:
We played outstanding in the first half. Apart from ten minutes in the second half, we were there until the end. I feel incredible emotion to see these players do what they do every three days.
People don’t ask about Kevin or Sergio when we win, only when we lose. The guys today were incredible. We win together, and we lose together.
You can lose but how you lose. Have we been like we normally are? Absolutely.
Chelsea [usually] monopolise the ball and create 75 per cent of chances with a thousand million passes, and they beat us with one counter-attack and a set-piece. We play the way we want to play and that’s why.
David Silva (£8.7m), who lined up as part of a midfield three with Fernandinho (£5.4m) and Bernardo Silva (£7.5m), was another City asset to have an off-day and his evening worsened when he limped from the pitch midway through the second half with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
While there was no update provided by Guardiola after the game, City midfielder Phil Foden (£4.6m) at least offered us some further details on his team-mate’s problem:
I spoke to him at the end and he said he’s got a tight hamstring, so hopefully nothing too serious.
As for Chelsea, a team who averaged 67.8% possession in Premier League games this season and who had attempted more passes than all other 19 clubs going into Saturday’s match, this was almost a Conte-esque performance, with the Blues defending resolutely and content to hit City on the break.
Jorginho (£4.9m) was an ineffectual as he had been all season as “Sarri-ball” was abandoned for the day, with the Blues seeing only 39.0% of the ball and not mustering a single shot until N’Golo Kante‘s (£4.9m) opener just before the break.
As we mentioned in the introduction to this article, Hazard was used as the spearhead of the Chelsea attack, with Pedro (£6.3m) and Willian (£7.3m) flanking the Belgian in Sarri’s customary 4-3-3.
The Blues’ goal threat improved after the half-time, with Pedro and Willian testing Ederson (£5.8m), but Hazard’s prominence around the opposition box was minimal: the Belgian didn’t have a single attempt on goal, recorded only one touch in the City area and received the ball on only six occasions in the final third.
That being said, Hazard still knitted play together well when he was afforded possession and emerged from this encounter with two assists, the second of which was a corner-kick that David Luiz (£5.6m) headed in to put the game to bed.
Sarri said after the match that he plans to use Hazard as his “number nine” again in the future:
We had Eden for the first time in that position [striker] and in the first 20 or 25 minutes we didn’t work well in the defensive movements in the opposition half, but fortunately, we defended well in our half. We started to press better and after the first goal, the game changed.
He had some problems at the beginning of the match but he was great in the second half. Maybe he deserved to score and I think he’s a very good option [in that position]. We will play like today in the future, for certain matches of course.
The player himself said he enjoys the role but his comments about not touching the ball as often as he usually does summed up the downside to playing centrally:
I like it, because I played it last year also, so I know what to do, but the feeling is a bit strange because you don’t touch the ball a lot. You just need to focus on what you need to do and I tried to do my best, we won and that is what is important.
Alvaro Morata (£8.6m), meanwhile, didn’t even make the match-day squad for this, with Sarri explaining his absence thus:
The reason was clear; we played with Hazard as a striker and so if we had to change something there was Giroud. I think it was useless to have two strikers on the bench. I prefer more midfielders because today I was in trouble with wingers, so the only option was Loftus-Cheek.
The all-action Kante has now been directly involved (two goals, two assists) in more Chelsea goals this season than he managed in the whole of 2017/18, with Sarri hailing his contributions at both ends of the pitch:
I think Kante scored by chance because they played very close to Jorginho, more than in the other matches. He defended very well and had some good counter-attacks. Then he was in the box for the first goal, but today he played in the right position, very close to Jorginho. He played very well.
Elsewhere on the Chelsea midfield front, Mateo Kovacic (£5.8m) limped from the field with what looked like a thigh injury on 65 minutes – though no update was provided on the Croatian’s fitness by his manager after the match.
Sarri did laud his defence, however, with Luiz singled out for praise:
I have to say I was very happy with him from the beginning. Of course, there are matches like this one in which it’s easier to stay on the defensive line because the offensive movements are working very well, and there are matches when that’s difficult, like Tottenham, because the defensive phase of the team is a disaster. Today he played a really good match.
Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.3m) was excellent at right-back, too, while even Alonso improved from a defensive perspective after attracting much criticism over the past week and looking shaky early on in this fixture.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley 65′); Pedro, Hazard (Giroud 90′), Willian (Loftus-Cheek 74′).
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Delph; Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, Silva (Gundogan 68‘); Mahrez (Foden 84′), Sterling, Sane (Gabriel Jesus 53′).
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