The 2019 Carabao Cup Final will be remembered for one specific moment, as it was a game devoid of them. Manchester City and Chelsea played each other to a tactical standstill, with only Kepa Arrizabalaga saving us from a truly awful game. The Blues was incredibly strong in defence but this game came down to a problem Pep Guardiola knows all too well.
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Guardiola has seen this movie a thousand times before. His team has loads of possession, usually circulating around the edges of the halfway line, but they fail to do anything creative and they struggle to score despite their possession. It was a match pattern he has seen plenty of times and it came around again on Sunday.
Chelsea came out with Eden Hazard in a central position for the first time since their acquisition of Gonzalo Higuain. Their plan was to do exactly what they did at Stamford Bridge in December: sit behind the ball and make it harder for Manchester City than they did at the Etihad two weeks ago. Anyone would have expected their professional pride to propel them to a better performance on Sunday.
So they sat behind the ball and worked extremely hard to keep City from breaking them down. For 120 minutes, they did just that. Chelsea dispossessed City 22 times and they made 16 blocks and 31 clearances in an all-hands-on-deck defensive performance.
It was very impressive for a side that has so much possession to dig and defend the way that they did and, for their efforts, they spent about 30 minutes in the second half and extra time controlling the game and creating chances for themselves.
On the other hand, City did a poor job of creating chances. There were only two or three periods throughout the game where they really seemed to turn the screw. The two most prominent periods were from about 25 minutes to 35 minutes and just after half-time. Both were the only cases where Manchester City circulated possession with the necessary speed.
Even when they were moving the ball at their best, it wasn’t enough. City failed to create good enough chances to even test Arrizabalaga in regulation. Their best chance was probably Sergio Aguero’s shot that the Spaniard saved or the mess that was cleared by Cesar Azpilicueta. Both came during extra time, and both were chances City might have scored on a different day.
There were a couple of players who had really good games for City, despite the largely disappointing game. Oleksandr Zinchenko was outstanding at left-back. He took control of his side of the field in the first half and, after the Fernandinho injury, he played very well, helping out Gundogan and Danilo in the midfield. He has really improved himself over the last few weeks and as long as Benjamin Mendy keeps getting hurt they are going to need him.
The other standout and in-stadium Man of the Match was Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder could not be more counted on by Guardiola for his defensive capabilities are necessary. He is always pressing, it’s like he never stops. For 120 minutes against Chelsea, Silva kept pressing with incredible energy; like he hadn’t just done that for 90 minutes on Wednesday.
Beyond Arrizabalaga, the biggest story coming out of this game was the injuries to two of the most important Manchester City players. Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho both came off with muscle injuries, with Pep Guardiola saying after the game that he thought they would miss ‘weeks’.
Weeks for both of those players would be catastrophic for City. There is hope in Laporte saying he wasn’t that hurt in the mixed zone, but both will miss the midweek game against West Ham. It’s too early to know what they will miss beyond that. Their next three games are against Bournemouth and Watford before Schalke come to Manchester in the Champions League.
It seems unlikely that we’ll see Fernandinho before that Schalke game, healthy or not, but Laporte has played in every Premier League game this season. It is important for City to get both of those guys back healthy, and avoid the mistake Manchester United made with Jesse Lingard.