Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City. A gigantic win in the FA Cup semifinal sees the Blues advance to the FA Cup Final for the fourth time in five years across four different managers.
The game was quite cagey and seemed a bit of a tactical battle between two masterclass managers. The battle of wits and endurance was won by the Blues as they stifled Manchester City throughout the match. The Citizens seemed to be much more threatening after the inclusion of Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan, but the resolute determination from the Blues backline was more than enough to shut down the Manchester City attack. The defenders simply had the answer for each question that Manchester City asked during this match.
Hats off to the Blues for the win, and here are the five additional things we have learned after this massive victory.
Chelsea Are Now Built for Cup Competitions
Another cup match and another progression for the Blues. The squad has consistently shown the three at the back formation is built for cup football for a few reasons. Firstly, the defensive solidity makes it difficult to break down Chelsea and the squad cannot lose if they do not concede.
Secondly, there is a fluidity in attack that can be chopped and changed based on the style of opponent that Chelsea will face in a one- or two-legged cup competition. Finally, the two holding midfielders can be altered to best suit the opposition, and we have learned that the combination of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho may be the perfect yin and yang for controlling the ball and conversely disrupting the opposition when they are on the ball. This is becoming more and more apparent with each additional cup match now.
Chelsea seem to be built for getting timely goals and defending their lead, and this was on full display against City. The squad were effectively able to nullify many of the threats City posed, were able to keep possession for large spells, then sit back and defend, and hit quickly on the counterattack.
Chelsea showed an ability to win in a variety of ways against City and more importantly, they showed that they can and will adapt the play in-game which will create many questions and problems for opposing managers and squads, respectively.
Tuchel’s defeat of Manchester City tops Pep Guardiola
Add Pep Guardiola to the ever-growing list of world class managers that Thomas Tuchel has beaten. This list now includes Jurgen Klopp, Carlo Ancelloti, Diego Simeone twice and Jose Mourinho. More impressively, Tuchel has set up the Blues to not concede a single goal against any of these elite managers. This is a fact that truly cannot be overstated. Tuchel clearly has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the best tacticians in the game, and continually is showing that he can and will come out on top each time.
Even before his time at Chelsea he has shown this: he guided PSG to their first-ever Champions League final last season and only lost to an unstoppable Bayern side. Had it not been for several missed 1v1 opportunities from PSG, Tuchel may have lifted the big ears last season, too.
This all bodes well for the Blues with the German mastermind leading the side. Tuchel has the club playing the best we have since the great Antonio Conte was marshalling the squad in 2016/2017 and the results are doing the talking to back this up. Conte ended that stunning play and results with a league and FA Cup title (along with reaching an additional FA Cup final). Tuchel is the real deal and Chelsea fans certainly have learned this after the masterclass he pulled off against Pep Guardiola, who is regarded as the best manager in the game by nearly unanimous opinion. Any doubters of Tuchel will surely have their concerns massively alleviated after this impressive result and FA Cup final berth.
Hakim Ziyech Continues to Turn Up for Cup Matches
The Moroccan Wizard transforms his game yet again in a cup match. He has been great lately in the Champions League and follows those performances up with a great match against Manchester City over the weekend. Ziyech opened his lively performance by scoring a goal that was eventually ruled offside. However, this was foreshadowing to the difference Ziyech would make upon the match, as he scored a similar goal in the second half to the one that was disallowed for offsides in the first half. Even dating back to Ziyech’s time at Ajax he routinely saved some of his best performances for cup competitions.
Ziyech creates the most assists per 90, big chances per 90, and key passes per 90 and these statistics, combined with the recent uptick in the Champions League and now FA Cup will give Blues fans much to smile about and hopefully learn that the Moroccan Wizard is peaking at the best time for Chelsea.
Ziyech’s elite decision making will likely become crucial for the Blues in the deeper stages of the cup competitions, and now that he is also adding goals to his cup games, the Blues have a true attacking force on their hands. Ziyech was arguably man of the match against Manchester City, and it seems safe to say he is returning to his best form for the crunch time of the season’s final hurdles.
Chelsea Continue to Dominate the FA Cup
This is Chelsea’s fourth appearance in the last five years of the FA Cup Final. Despite only winning one of the previous three, it still shows that in recent years Chelsea are always around the final stage of this tournament. This is a testament to a larger achievement: although in recent years the Premier League title has alluded the Blues, they are still fighting amongst the better teams of England in domestic cup competitions.
The theme of this article so far has been that Blues fans have learned the squad is set up well for cups, and the above record further proves this point. Chelsea very well may continue their dominance of the FA Cup and avenge last season’s heartbreaking loss to Arsenal in the Final. Credit to Leicester and Southampton, but after defeating Manchester City, showing an unstoppable resilience in cups, and key players hitting form at the right time, the Blues should dispatch whoever they meet in the final and lift the famous FA Cup trophy. Just like Arsenal use to win this competition with Arsene Wenger, it feels that Chelsea have now taken that mantle after the Frenchman left the Gunners and are making this competition their own. Let’s hope the trophy is lifted in May!
Clean sheet against Manchester City The Defensive Backline is Made of Steel
19 matches with Tuchel and 14 clean sheets. This process has stifled some of the best teams in the league and Europe, and now stifled arguably the best team in Europe in Manchester City according to many pundits and fans alike.
Blues fans have hopefully and undeniably learned that the backline is now as strong as steel and are beginning to show they are almost impenetrable. Except the total meltdown against Sam Allardyce’s Baggies, the Blues simply are not conceding goals and paramount to this is the switch to the three at the back system. This uptick in defensive performances and resolution is not terribly surprising, as Antonio Rudiger was signed to play in said system, Andreas Christensen has shown his best with the Blues in this system dating back to the Conte era, and Cesar Azpilicueta is revived in what has been his best position of right center back over more recent years. Add to this the overall solid play of Thiago Silva (except when he faces West Brom) this back three is perfectly set up to win cup matches, as they are highly organized, communicative, and generally shut down and force the opposition attack into desperation.
Conversely, this plays into some of the strengths of Timo Werner later on in matches as opponents will be chasing the match (as we saw against Manchester City in the FA Cup) and are more open to being exploited on the counter. Taking this into a larger context, if the Blues are to lift trophies this season, much of the credit will undoubtedly be integrally linked to the success and determination of the centre backs. This point is the main takeaway from the match against City: Chelsea can and will limit and stifle the best of attacking teams with the new formation and tactics that Tuchel has resurrected.
Written by Travis Flock (@Crossroads_CFC)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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