Football Features

“Phil Foden ran riot” – Five things learned as magnificent Man City crush Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:03, 3 January 2021

In a dominant afternoon of football, Manchester City dismantled Chelsea 1-3 at Stamford Bridge.

The win moves City up to fifth with a game in-hand and serves as a statement for Pep Guardiola’s men. What did we learn?

1. Phil Foden and movement

People look at Pep Guardiola’s teams and they always focus on the passing or the pressing, or maybe Leo Messi. What they never focus on is the movement off-the-ball, this is despite movement being utterly essential to the way Guardiola’s teams play.

A passing attack with no one moving off the ball becomes stagnant, as City have often looked this season. However against Chelsea we saw Phil Foden line-up in an attacking three and from that one decision flowed all of City’s dominance.

Foden’s movement down the outside was obvious and useful, especially with his pace (“he’s turned into Marc Overmars!” cried Gary Neville at one point) but no one was expecting him to make diagonal runs inside, but that’s exactly what he did, repeatedly.

César Azpilicueta couldn’t track him, Kurt Zouma didn’t know to pick him up, and so Foden was in space. Once he found Ilkay Gundogan who opened the scoring, another time he found Kevin De Bruyne wide of him and then moved into the middle, in a mile of space, and then finished the ball De Bruyne flashed into him.

The whole game saw City moving off the ball and utterly bamboozling Chelsea as a result. Ilkay Gundogan (who opened the scoring) was another fine exemplar, dovetailing his forward runs with the false nine system. And even Raheem Sterling, who shot with Stormtrooper-accuracy, was flying around the field much to Chelsea’s consternation.

The Blues simply couldn’t keep up with their visitors and got ripped to bits, they were lucky to only ship three goals. Phil Foden ran riot today in London, giving us an object lesson in why movement is so important to Pep Guardiola’s style of play.

2. Lampard exposed

Frank Lampard is not a great manager. He’s not a bad manager, sure, he trusts young players unreservedly and seems capable of creating good vibes around a team. Those are admirable qualities, but he doesn’t seem to have a great grasp of the tactical side of the game.

He talks a good game, but Lampard has repeatedly looked less than assured in his vision – constantly changing formation and even where players operate in the same formation.

He accidented his way into his best XI (with Olivier Giroud at the head of the side) but refused to use it at any point today. That was, of course, because he wanted to play in transition. But how were Chelsea in transition? Was it a high press? Or were they coming out of a low-block? It seemed to be a mix of both, which meant neither was done well. There was no cohesion, and Lampard spoke second-half of Billy Gilmour and Mason Mount showing “fight” which really wasn’t Chelsea’s problem. They fought, they just couldn’t land a glove on City.

3. The resurrection of John Stones

Whisper it quietly but is Aymeric Laporte in the best version of the Manchester City defence? The Frenchman is obviously excellent but his absence through injury hasn’t been the death knell one would have expected for City’s defence largely because of the resurrection of John Stones.

Sure, having the consistently solid Ruben Dias next to him helps, but Stones has looked superb these past few weeks. The Englishman last played this well before the 2018 World Cup, and hasn’t looked the same since coming back from Russia. But now he’s in the zone.

Physically he competes, tactically he controls the back-line and of course he passes out from the back with authority. Ruben Dias needs to be respected (6 clearances, 3 interceptions – both game-highs) but it’s John Stones that has taken control of the Manchester City defence and it could lead to genuinely great things for Pep Guardiola’s men.

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4. City on the charge

Manchester City haven’t lost in their last 11 games. They’ve won their last four in a row across all competitions and have moved up the league table to fifth on 29 points. Moreover they have a game in-hand over all of the sides above them and, should they win that game they will go just one point behind joint league leaders Liverpool and Manchester United.

For a side who have essentially cruised under the radar all season, missing their main goalscorer and thus absent of any hype, that is quite ominous. They have finally committed to moving on from Fernandinho are look all the better for it with Rodri looking resplendent at the base of midfield (he carved Chelsea apart today) and in defence Ruben Dias has given them the kind of stable presence at the back they’ve been crying out for.

Sure they still need a left-back and you’d say that they do really need Aguero to stay fit now, but Manchester City have quietly put together one hell of a team, one that is genuinely leading a charge to regain their Premier League title.

5. Player ratings


Manchester City