Chelsea came back from a goal down at half-time to a 3-1 win over title rivals Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday
Manchester City hosted Chelsea in a matchup billed as a potential battle of two of the best bets for the Premier League crown for the current campaign. Chelsea were on an unrelenting run of victories but it was the home side that was on the front foot from the get-go. The pressure paid off as Gary Cahill deflected a cross into his own net.
The second half saw City get more opportunities to put the game to bed but their inability to close the game came back to bite them as goals from Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard ensured a smash-and-grab 3-1 win over City. The Hard Tackle takes a look at few of the compelling storylines to come out of the fixture.
1. Chelsea Conte lose at the moment
What a compelling storyline Chelsea’s current campaign makes for the football lovers. A steady start followed by crushing defeats to other top clubs saw Conte being tipped to take the fall so soon in his Blues career. But boy has he turned it around. Under pressure, the Italian busted out his 3-man defensive formation and the rest has been purely magic.
Chelsea have won all of their games after the deployment of the 3-man defence and conceded just 2 goals, a testament to the impact the formation change has had on the team’s performance. And even though the players deserve credit for their quick adaptability to a new formation, no one deserves more praise than their charismatic and passionate manager.
Conte worked his magic well at Juventus but was often undermined by the thought of Serie A being a one-horse race. But, at Chelsea, he is converting his doubters into believers and it looks like people are quickly boarding the Conte hype train. Deservedly so.
2. Aguero and Costa perform a role reversal
Sergio Aguero has a stellar record in the Premier League and is regarded as one of the best strikers, when fit. Diego Costa, on the other hand, is often termed as a loose cannon. But, on Saturday, it almost felt like the two former Atletico Madrid forwards had undergone a reversal, in fortunes and personalities.
While Costa resembled a cool and calm head, scoring Chelsea’s first goal in the 60th minute of the game, Aguero failed to capitalise on a number of goalscoring opportunities and his frustration came out in the wrong manner towards the end. The Argentine lunged in dangerously and made contact with David Luiz, a challenge that was rightly punished with a red card.
The suspension means Sergio Aguero will now miss at-least 4 games, which could prove crucial in the title race.
3. The Diego Costa transformation
Much has been said about Diego Costa’s goalscoring run and Antonio Conte’s managerial brilliance. But perhaps the best example of his man-management skills is the fact that the fiery striker has now gone eight games without being booked.
Diego Costa, a name that had almost become synonymous with bookings, on-field controversies and bursts of anger and frustration, seems to be resembling a rather calm figure under Conte.
A charged up Costa is a danger to any opposition, but Conte seems to have made him channel his anger and frustration more towards the game and less towards the opposition, something which is clearly bringing the best out of Costa.
His skills as a forward were never in doubt, but his newfound composure could just be the key to unlock the beast in Costa.
4. Incomplete replication from Guardiola
Pep Guardiola deployed a 3-man defensive system to counter Conte’s setup and it seems to be working in the first half. But, what Guardiola did not account for is the personnel to be deployed in the setup.
The likes of Kevin De Bruyne as wingback failed to match the defensive contribution of the likes of Alonso and Moses in Chelsea’s side and all three of the goals came from the counters, as Chelsea caught the City defence napping.
While it was an appreciation-worthy attempt at neutralising Chelsea’s threat, Pep failed to grasp the defensive contribution required from his wing-backs as well as the pace of the men in the 3-man formation.
5. Petty from Pep?
Another matter that needs to be discussed is Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola’s post-match reaction to Aguero and Fernandinho’s horror showing towards the end. What the duo did was inexplicable and has no place in football. Aguero and Fernandinho were both torn to shreds by everyone on every social network.
Everyone but Pep. The manager, in a way, chose to back Aguero and Fernandinho, stating that what they showed was passion and some fire, which he would like to see in his players rather than something boring. His statements came as a shock because Pep is always considered to be a rather vocal supporter of the fair footballing ideology.
The media has chosen not to highlight his support but one does not need to wonder what the case would have been had Mourinho stated something along similar lines. While it seems a bit petty from Pep to support the incident, it is equally unjust behaviour by the media to shrug the manager’s comments off.