Sunday, November 27, 2022

Revealed: Man City tunnel row that presented Chelsea’s Champions League final tactical victory.

Revealed: Man City tunnel row that presented Chelsea’s Champions League final tactical victory.

Revealed: Man City tunnel row that presented Chelsea's Champions League final tactical victory.

The tunnel exchange between John Stones and Riyad Mahrez possibly set the tactical quandary that eventually cost Manchester City the Champions League final.

The pair were picked up by cameras at halftime, having a heated contest as they were planning to emerge into the Estadio Do Dragao, trailing 1-0 to Chelsea in the final.

That provoked thought that Mahrez, who pushed his hands into Stones’ chest at one point, was asking the defender to be more aggressive after the England man had made a shy start to the game.

But it seems that Stones was delivering a point to the Algeria star after Chelsea had opened City’s right flank frequently in the first half – a ploy that had led undeviatingly to Kai Havertz’s ultimately definitive goal.

Chelsea’s tactic of getting the ball wide to left-back Ben Chilwell early, and connecting Mason Mount as soon as reasonable, was no big shock to Pep Guardiola – Chelsea had done it, and scored from it, in the FA Cup semi-final win, just 42 days before.

Much had been made of City sporting a vulnerable team in that loss but, if anything, they looked even more exposed to it when they had their first-choice back four and goalkeeper out on the field in Porto.

Chilwell had snuffed out the attacking menace of Mahrez by becoming tight to the deadly winger whenever he was on the ball, either to force him to play with his end to goal, powerless to turn, or to be squeezed into errors whenever he attempted to carve inside onto his left foot.

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That bent on the reality that Mahrez, either by Guardiola’s direction or his own choice, was staying high on the pitch, and not pursuing the runs of Chilwell.

With Mount and Timo Werner then connecting with Chilwell, Kyle Walker and John Stones frequently found themselves outnumbered.

If Werner had not fluffed a big opportunity, it would have meant City going in more than a goal down.

So dangerous was that combination that, when Mendy’s throw found Chilwell, who then crossed to Mount on halfway, Stones, Walker and Ruben Dias were all pulled out of position for fear of being caught out again.

That was when Chelsea hit them with the sweet punch, as Kai Havertz made his askew run, grounded to stay onside, with Aleks Zinchenko failing to see the danger early enough and then losing to pursue Havertz down once it became clear.

With Stones, Dias and Walker drawn to the right, and Zinchenko not responding, Havertz had a large space into which he could run, and for a player of Mount’s quality it was a comparatively simple pass that he timed to completeness.

Mahrez’s absenteeism from defensive role was showing in the first half, and with City pushing hard for an equaliser after the rest, the clear indication that he needed to do more defensive work – which Stones appeared to be making – was not tested.

There has been discussion that Mahrez, one of City’s best players this season, could be available this season, as the Blues eye up the sale of at least one big name to fund a move for a big-money striker.

Like Leroy Sane , Mahrez has developed the defensive side of his game, and his work rate, but whether he has done so to an intensity to convince Guardiola remains to be noticed.

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Revealed: Man City tunnel row that presented Chelsea’s Champions League final tactical victory.

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