When Chelsea took on Manchester City in the Premier League, the December clash was eagerly anticipated as the arguably two best teams in the league faced off. As Conte’s 3-4-3 bulldozed all comers & the for the sake of the title race, the master tactician Pep Guardiola was seemingly the league’s one hope of halting Chelsea’s runaway train. Chelsea were just a point ahead of Manchester City going into the game so Antonio Conte was likely to instruct his team to sit back whilst Pep Guardiola would go in all guns blazing as usual. It was a rather interesting tactical encounter at the Etihad & it didn’t disappoint.

Manchester City dominate wide areas

Mirroring Chelsea’s 3-4-3, Kevin De Bruyne & David Silva were deployed as inside forwards who were tasked with occupying the half-spaces. This was done in order to cause confusion within Chelsea’s defensive areas (a feature of which Chelsea’s opponents were beginning to realise). As Kevin De Bruyne occupied the right half-space, it left Cesc Fàbregas & Gary Cahill with a decision to make; if Fàbregas followed De Bruyne the Belgian would be marked but the crucial space on the edge of the box would be exposed. If Cahill stuck with De Bruyne, again the Belgian would be nullified but Sergio Agüero would have a free run down David Luiz’s weak side. Sticking or straying with the original game plan would’ve had numerous implications be they desirable or not but in the end Chelsea stuck to the plan of maintaining horizontal compactness in an attempt to smoke De Bruyne & Silva out. Although this could be seen as the safer approach it led to the home side creating various chances through their advanced playmakers as they’d link up with Agüero to overload the central & half-spaces in order to create space for their wingbacks. The opening goal was created in this way as Cahill & Alonso both picked up  Kevin De Bruyne’s run which allowed Jesús Navas’ cross to come off an apologetic Cahill. This was a previously untapped approach in regards to opening up the 3-4-3 & it caused problems repeatedly for Chelsea throughout the game.

Fast midfield transitions key

A key feature of Pep Guardiola’s sides’ is agile, nimble creative players who’s minds work as fast as their feet. This meant that if Chelsea were to match City’s tempo without sacrificing their own attacking ability, the physical yet clunky Nemanja Matić would have to be replaced by the swifter Fàbregas. Strength isn’t everything as the Spaniard proves on many occasions, as his passing range, accuracy & selection speak volumes as to how his football mind functions. Paired with the tireless N’golo Kanté, Chelsea’s midfield duo were better equipped to take on their opposite numbers in Ilkay Gündogan & Fernandinho. In what was a throwback of sorts, an excellent long range pass by Fàbregas  from within his own half set up Diego Costa who levelled the game for the travelling team. The game may have turned out diffidently had the towering Serb started but the result seems to justify Fàbregas getting the nod. Fàbregas‘ ability to keep up with the tempo of the game may well have been the factor which swayed Conte & rightly so, as one wrong move from Matić & City could’ve been in.

 Chelsea’s superior counter attacks

In what was a rather peculiar move by Pep Guardiola, natural wingers Leroy Sané & Jesús Navas were deployed as wingbacks. Granted, it was a big game in which risks should debatably be kept to a minimum but it came off for the most part as the wingbacks worked well to peg back their corresponding opponents by providing multiple good crosses. However, Chelsea’s wingers in Eden Hazard & Pedro (later Willian) would have to remain awake in case of a counter attack & they did, as this was the cause of both of their last two goals. What will make Willian’s goal even more painful will be the fact that 14 minutes earlier Kevin De Bruyne hit the crossbar from just 6 yards out which cost the hosts the chance to go 2-0 up. It can be a game of luck sometimes & if De Bruyne had scored that, we may not have the same league champions we have today.

For Chelsea, it was a major stride towards the title as one of their most credible challengers had been defeated. Despite the fact they suffered losses to both Arsenal & Liverpool, the change to a 3-4-3 has led the Blues to wins over Manchester United & Tottenham Hotspur. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 took many of the league’s teams by surprise as few have managed to play them at their own game but it is not invincible as the cracks have began to show. Sloppy goals & overloads seem to de-stabilise Conte’s men & time will tell if anyone can spoil Antonio Conte’s revelation.