The 2012-13 season kicked off at Villa Park as Premier League champions Manchester City took on FA Cup Winners Chelsea in the FA Community Shield. Mancini’s use of a 3-4-1-2 worked well with Torres looking isolated even before Ivanovic was dismissed and City able to boss the midfield zone with their extra bodies and much needed width…
Roberto Mancini sent his Manchester City side onto the pitch in a new formation, featuring a back three (see diagram below). Due to a minor back injury, Joe Hart didn’t feature for City, with Romanian second choice keeper Costel Pantilimon starting in goal.
Vincent Kompany was the most central defender in the back three, with Pablo Zabaleta to his left and Stefan Savic to the right. Width was provided via the two City wing backs, Aleksandar Kolarov and James Milner who spent most of the match shuttling up either side of the pitch, changing the City shape from a five man midfield with the ball, to a five man defence without it.
Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure started in central midfield, with Samir Nasri further ahead given the freedom of an advanced playmaker, although despite complaining over the years for frequently having to start matches out wide, the Frenchman naturally drifted towards the left, often making runs past the strike partnership of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.
Chelsea lined up in what has become a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation under Roberto di Matteo. Petr Cech started in goal with Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole at full back, and there was a strong indication as to who di Matteo favours as his strongest centre back partnership, with David Luiz picked ahead of Gary Cahill to partner John Terry.
Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel sat in midfield, with Juan Mata in the hole. Width down the right came from Ramires, and down the left from new summer signing Eden Hazard. Fernando Torres started as the lone striker.
The most obvious question was how would City cope with Chelsea’s width in attack? Chelsea needed to stretch the City back three quickly on the counter if they were to have any success today, but Chelsea never got in behind the City defence early enough, making it relatively straight forward for Milner and Kolarov to track the runs of Hazard and Ramires, without the back three being dragged about.
This also meant Kompany could focus solely on Torres and the City captain performed very well against the Spanish striker, winning nearly everything in the air and doing a good job of marking the Spaniard tightly, allowing Zabaleta and Savic to press higher up either side of him and deal with Mata.
As already mentioned, Nasri naturally drifts across to the left, even when allowed to start centrally and some of his movement down that side was very good, giving Kolarov the option to play him in down the line or to look inside to Tevez who frequently dropped deep, with Aguero ahead of him stretching the play.
But as is common when two sides have five in midfield and play against one another, the midfield zonewas very crowded, especially the central third of Chelsea’s half as there were two centre backs, two strikers, an advanced midfielder, two holding midfielders and three central midfielders, all playing in the same part of the pitch (red box). However, Kolarov and Milner weren’t yet prepared to push too far forward and give Ivanovic and Cole too much to worry about defensively.
The first goal of the game went against the run of play, with City slightly the better side, as some fantastic quick feet from Ramires led to Torres picking up the ball in the box and finishing with a clever chip over Pantilimon.
Two minutes later though Chelsea were a goal up but a man down after Ivanovic was correctly sent off for a dangerous tackle on Kolarov. This led di Matteo to change Chelsea’s shape to a 4-4-1 with Mata moving to the right wing and Ramires back to right back.
This meant Chelsea attacks would be even narrower as both Hazard and Mata favour coming inside and with Chelsea’s full backs unlikely to overlap out wide, due to being a goal up, it was made even easier for City to defend with their three man defence unlikely to get stretched and at the same time, able to limit the threat of Torres upfront on his own.
The sending off proved to be crucial and led to a 12 minute spell during the second half where City scored three goals. The first came from a Toure strike outside of the box after Terry failed to clear a Milner cross, and the second, six minutes later, came about after Tevez escaped from Luiz on the edge of the box and managed to open up some space in front of him to fire a shot into the top corner superbly.
Mancini will perhaps be most pleased though by his side’s third goal, which was produced thanks to having attacking wing backs, therefore justifying City’s formation. Kolarov and Tevez forced a 2v1 situation on the left against Ramires (see diagram), with the wing back delivering a cross for Nasri to convert at the near post.
Chelsea pulled a goal back after Pantilimon failed to hold onto a Daniel Sturridge shot, after the winger replaced Mata, and another Chelsea substitute, Ryan Bertrand converted the rebound.
To conclude, City’s shape worked extremely well against a narrow Chelsea side in attack. City’s back three was never stretched and Kompany comfortably dealt with Torres, all meaning City could have one extra midfielder, without having to resort, as most teams do, to playing just one striker up front.
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