Guardiola’s ‘plan A’ turns into successful ‘plan B’ as champions crush patched-up Chelsea

Guardiola’s ‘plan A’ turns into successful ‘plan B’ as champions crush patched-up Chelsea

Guardiola’s ‘plan A’ turns into successful ‘plan B’ as champions crush patched-up Chelsea

Pep Guardiola has frequently been accused of overthinking during his time as Manchester City manager, with some even attributing their continued failure to win the Champions League to this reason.

As an example, City lost to Chelsea in the final of that 2021 competition when Guardiola decided not to field a naturally defensive midfielder.

Perhaps it has been a fair criticism at times, but by extension it highlights the self-confidence that you can outplay opponents before they even set foot on the pitch.

He could even be accused of having overly complicated plans for Thursday’s trip to Stamford Bridge.

However, Guardiola also inspired the 1-0 win over Chelsea with his apparent acknowledgment that he got his starting line-up wrong, his second-half changes proving key as City returned to winning ways after that disappointing draw. 1-1 with Everton in New York. New Year’s Eve

However, it took a while for victory to look likely, even with a mended Chelsea enduring an injury nightmare.

Undoubtedly, there was a sense of bewilderment in the stadium as Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic suffered blows that forced them to retire.

Only 22 minutes had been played. The double whammy continued Chelsea’s notorious physical bad luck of late, with those two taking their injured list to 10 players who also lost Mason Mount in the previous 24 hours.

And if there is any team prepared to capitalize on such a misfortune, it is City.

Or, it usually is.

Despite the Chelsea situation, they were the better team in the first half, quite comfortably some fans might even suggest.

Pulisic looked destined to score when John Stones produced the hard-hitting, but clean, last-minute tackle that eventually forced the American’s substitution.

Bernardo Silva made an equally important intervention to block a try from Pulisic’s replacement, Carney Chukwuemeka, who was encouraged from the bench.

While City may not have struggled to stay afloat, their lack of inventiveness and control was curious, even against a team like Chelsea.

It was nothing like the city we expected.

Still, though, Chelsea deserved credit. For all their troubles and recent poor form, they looked good, ready to fight, and came awfully close just before half-time when Chukwuemeka hit the post at the end of a quick breakaway.

It was moments like that, when the game was stretched out, when Chelsea seemed most threatening; perhaps, then, it was not a surprise to see Guardiola make changes at the interval.

City was back four again. Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo withdrew; Manuel Akanji went to central; Rodri returned to midfield and Rico Lewis came on as a right back and central midfielder.

Almost instantly, City had as much control as they had wished for. Suddenly, Chelsea were struggling to keep their heads above water as the visitors relentlessly hurled men forward and snuffed out any attempt to counterattack.

Chelsea survived in the 52nd minute when Nathan Ake’s header hit the post and Phil Foden saw a follow-up blocked; Kevin De Bruyne then drilled wide from inside the box a few minutes later.

But while Guardiola’s half-time adjustments undoubtedly played a role in altering the course of the game, it was his additional adjustment on the hour that was truly decisive.

Foden’s restoration to the starting XI would have been popular with the army of supporters calling for his return, but here he remained largely anonymous: the shock of his replacement will surely have elicited a smirk from Guardiola.

Jack Grealish, making his first important appearance three minutes after coming on, flicked the ball in front of goal to lay it out for Riyad Mahrez.

He was left with a simple touch, opening the scoring with what was also Mahrez’s first proper involvement as he came on behind Marc Cucurella.

It had been that area of ​​the pitch where most of City’s joy came from, with the substitution of Bernardo for Mahrez almost surprising at the time given that the Portuguese midfielder had been circling Cucurella in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

However, Guardiola’s decision was crucial. He returned to the wide pairing that had become his favorite choice of late, and they demonstrated why that had been the case with one simple move, and just moments after being introduced.

Chelsea’s attempts to win back the small deficit were brave, energetic, and their young replacements put up an encouraging fight. Ultimately, it was beyond them, but there’s not much you can expect given the Blues’ list of absences.

No, this was all the fault of City and Guardiola.

Maybe Guardiola made things too complicated, but if you don’t have anyone good enough to play chess against, sometimes you have to play chess yourself.

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