Chelsea beat Man City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday with Antonio Conte‘s men putting down a big marker in their title push.
[ MORE: Recap as Chelsea win ]
Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard scored Chelsea’s goal as the Blues have now won eight-straight games and in turn they put Pep Guardiola and City in their place.
Here’s what we learned from a gripping, absorbing encounter.
WING BACK BATTLE
Both teams opted for wing backs and the result was a bit chaotic.
For Man City they had attacking wingers in Jesus Navas and Leroy Sane in the wide position and they just looked so uncomfortable in those defensive positions. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses grew in stature as the game wore on, although they had plenty more defensive work in the first half than they’ve had in recent months since Chelsea switched to a 3-4-3 formation.
Guardiola has switched between a three-man central defense and four at the back and it’s quite clear his players aren’t comfortable with either as of yet.
After making uncharacteristic mistakes in the first 50 minutes, Conte’s Chelsea looked very comfortable in the second half and Moses and Alonso both surged forward and looked much more adept defensively.
Guardiola’s gamble to match Chelsea’s wing backs backfired. Out of the four wing backs on the pitch, there’s no doubting that Chelsea’s two prevailed.
COSTA PUTS CHELSEA ON HIS BACK
With Chelsea trailing 1-0 at half time and barely having a sniff at goal in the first half, plus struggling defensively, it was time for Diego Costa to step up. He did. Big time.
The Spanish striker chased, harried and bullied his way into the game and Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones had no answer for his clever movement, persistent pressure and rambunctious behavior.
Costa has quality too.
The 28-year-old latched on to Cesc Fabregas’ perfect through ball (is this the 2014-15 season!?) and chested down before finishing to make it 1-1 and less than 10 minutes later he played in Willian to put Chelsea ahead. Costa has now scored 11 goals and added five assists this season as he continues to be Conte’s main man.
Late on Costa had to come off injured with what looked like an injured lower back and the Spanish international will be nursed back to fitness as his importance to Chelsea is clear.
If Costa goes down injured or gets suspended — he’s been on four bookings for quite some time and a fifth will mean a suspension, but he seems more controlled and mature this campaign — Chelsea will be struggling. If he stays fit and in form, they will continue to be favorites to win the league.
CITY NEED NEW CENTER BACKS
Quite simply, Man City were all over the place in defense.
With Otamendi, Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov pushed to play from the back by Guardiola, they never looked comfortable on Saturday and with two wingers playing at full back, they didn’t have the cover they needed when they pushed forward into midfield when on the ball.
Tactically, Chelsea got at City’s defense in the second half and with Otamendi on a yellow card for scything down Costa in the first half, he was walking a tightrope for the rest of the game. Stones was subbed out with 15 minutes to go and without Vincent Kompany in central defense, City couldn’t stop Chelsea flooding forward and getting in-behind them.
This game had everything. City could’ve scored more goals with Kevin De Bruyne somehow hitting the bar from four yards out and Sergio Aguero being denied by Thibaut Courtois and goal line clearances, but the biggest issue for Guardiola is sorting his side out defensively.
With all of their spending on forwards and midfielders over the summer, it’s clear City need to spend big in January on a center back (or find a better solution from within) if they’re going to finish in the top four and challenge for the title. City are just four points off the top but they’ve lost to Tottenham and Chelsea this season in a very similar fashion.