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Chelsea show City can be stopped

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Nick Wright

Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright

Last Updated: 08/12/18 9:56pm

N'Golo Kante celebrates his opening goal against City

Manchester City's form looked ominous for the rest heading into Saturday's clash with Chelsea but Maurizio Sarri's side showed they can be stopped. Nick Wright was at Stamford Bridge to see how they did it.

Maurizio Sarri had said he "didn't know" how Manchester City could be beaten in the build-up to this game and for almost the entirety of the first half it seemed he was right. Chelsea were utterly overwhelmed, barely even able to get out of their half as the champions went in search of what looked like an inevitable eighth consecutive Premier League win.

Through a mixture of good fortune and good defending, however, Chelsea held on. Then, when David Luiz opened City up with a beautiful long pass to release Pedro on the counter-attack, Sarri's side sprang to life. For the first time, the ball fell to the feet of Eden Hazard in City's box. His cutback was rifled home by N'Golo Kante and the game was transformed.

Chelsea had been desperately sloppy before that, their possession and passing accuracy statistics dropping to season lows as they failed to cope with the intensity of City's pressing, but the opening goal gave them confidence and suddenly the visitors were the ones sending passes astray. On the touchline, Pep Guardiola grimaced.

City did regain their composure as the second half wore on but David Luiz's looping header from Hazard's corner made the result safe. City had not even come close to defeat this season. They had only been trailing for a total of 15 minutes in their previous 15 Premier League games. But this was proof that they can be stopped.

So how did Chelsea do it?

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Sarri admitted they rode their luck at times in the first half, bemoaning the failure of his forward players to press adequately from the front in the post-match press conference, but the key to the victory lay in their defensive organisation. City had nearly twice as many shots as Chelsea over the course of their 90 minutes but few of them were clear chances.

Chelsea were compact and difficult to break down and they were also helped by outstanding individual performances. David Luiz's was foremost among them. The Brazilian's goal was his standout moment and that pass in the build-up to the opener was another, but there were also vital defensive interventions.

The most important of them came in the 15th minute, when David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane combined to cut through Chelsea, only for Luiz to making an outstanding tackle on the latter before he could get his shot off. Had City scored then, Chelsea might have struggled to find a way back into the game.

Luiz marshalled Chelsea's backline brilliantly - "I am very, very happy with him from the beginning," said Sarri in his post-match press conference - but at right-back, Cesar Azpilicueta was just as influential. The long-serving Spaniard has just committed to a new contract at Stamford Bridge and this was a reminder of his enduring importance to the side.

Cesar Azpilicueta made 13 tackles over the course of the 90 minutes

According to Opta, he made an extraordinary total of 13 tackles - three more than any other player in any other Premier League game all season. Sane had little joy against him and nor did anybody else. At the end of it all, he was the last man to leave the pitch, the home fans in the Matthew Harding Stand showing appreciation as he finally headed towards the tunnel.

Luiz and Azpilicueta were vital at the back but Kante had a say at both ends. The Frenchman's position in the team has come under scrutiny recently, but Sarri praised his discipline in staying close to Jorginho when City had the ball and the Frenchman's goal was a testament to his growing effectiveness in an attacking sense.

Kante timed his run perfectly to meet Hazard's cut-back and he was key to Chelsea's counter-attacking approach after the break, too. Time and again, it was him who carried the ball forward, relieving the pressure on his side and teeing up both Pedro and Willian for scoring opportunities from which they should have extended Chelsea's advantage.

Eden Hazard takes on Bernardo Silva

Then there was Hazard, creator of both goals and a thorn in City's side after a largely anonymous first-half showing. The Belgian was deployed in the false nine position for the first time this season and while he was reproached by Sarri for not doing enough defensively in the first half, there was no denying that he made an invaluable contribution to the win.

"He had some problems in the beginning of the match but I think he played great in the second half," said Sarri. "Maybe he deserved to score today."

Maybe so, but Chelsea can have no complaints. Manchester City came to Stamford Bridge in imperious form, but they left it having shown that they can be stopped. Sarri told reporters to "ask someone else" when asked how to beat Guardiola's side in the build-up to the game. Next time, he might be able to field that question himself.

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