Thomas Tuchel set the trap and Manchester City stepped directly into it, ending their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple. Tactically outfoxed, Pep Guardiola couldn’t complain about losing to his friend for the first time in six matches. Chelsea were worthy winners and deserved their place in the FA Cup final after beating City with a skillful counterattack goal from Hakim Ziyech.
It wasn’t a blow from Chelsea. When City return to Wembley for the Carabao Cup final next weekend, they will be happy to meet Tottenham there rather than Tuchel’s side. Smart and controlled, Chelsea have dominated City for long stretches and will be confident of winning their first trophy under Tuchel when they meet either Leicester or Southampton in the final. For City it was a night to forget, with their disappointment compounded by Kevin De Bruyne limping with an ankle injury early in the second half.
The level of tactical expertise on the sidelines meant that both sides could not have been better prepared. The standard was high from the start, the atmosphere intense and the constant feeling that the slightest mistake would receive the most severe punishment possible. Neither team was ready to wait and fight their way into the game, summed up by City’s high press forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga to concede possession with a parasitic clearance barely 14 seconds after Chelsea kicked off. .
Standing in his technical zone, Tuchel threw his arms above his head in frustration as Arrizabalaga’s rushing ball from behind drifted towards a light blue shirt. Still, all three Chelsea full-backs refused to be intimidated when City forwards tracked them down. Jorginho performed his duties in midfield, accepting the ball in difficult positions and setting the pace, while N’Golo Kanté was full of energy, engaging in tackles and causing trouble with deep runs.
Tuchel wanted his team to be courageous and for a while it was Chelsea who called the shots, dominating possession and creating early openings. Six minutes remained on the clock when Timo Werner broke down on the left, pulling away from Aymeric Laporte before finding Ziyech, who shot past Zack Steffen at close range. Although the flag was raised late for offside against Werner, it was a sign Chelsea could injure City at the break.
Werner’s speed was a concern for City and there was a balance at Chelsea. Building cautiously, they threatened again when Ziyech cleverly freed Reece James on the right. The full-back had time to get through and he was entitled to expect a better finish when his delivery hit the mundane Ben Chilwell, who sent a weak wide volley.
Chelsea were shaking City, who looked slightly uncertain after making eight changes to the squad that beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League this week. Even De Bruyne was losing a few assists. Chelsea’s belief was growing.
Chilwell and James were progressive wingers and the movement of Chelsea’s forward three was impressive at times. Ziyech was smart in possession, Mount caused panic with a race behind the wheel and Werner, still playing on the shoulder, forced Laporte into another important block after breaking the right.
Despite all their good play, Chelsea struggled to create clear openings. Steffen, replacing Ederson in goal, had little to do and City started to settle in as the half wore on, forcing Chelsea to defend themselves more.
All the same, Guardiola needed more from his attack. Although Gabriel Jesus tested Arrizabalaga with a 20-yard effort, Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres were calm and City suffered a blow when De Bruyne injured his ankle three minutes after the start of the second half, forcing the Belgian make way for Phil Foden.
City were starved of a spark in the final third, summed up by Sterling’s waste when Fernandinho crossed the lines in the 55th minute, finally finding a hole in Chelsea’s defense. Offering a chance to test César Azpilicueta’s ability to defend one-on-one, Sterling could do nothing more than dismiss the opportunity by running straight into the center-back before giving a free kick with a clumsy foul. .
It hasn’t been an easy season for Sterling, who has fallen out of favor in recent months, and his indecision was made even worse when Chelsea took a deserved lead moments later.
For Tuchel, the goal was the reward for his plan to hit City’s high line. It was a clear tactic and it worked when Mount, such a smart player, passed a nice ball through for Werner to rush to the left. He had perfectly timed his run this time around and when Steffen came out of his line to close the angle the German was calm enough to roll the ball for Ziyech to manage a finish in the empty net.
It was a beautifully crafted lens. Once again, Chelsea benefited from Tuchel’s astute tactical wit. Chelsea had spotted a weakness in City’s defense and they almost exploited it again four minutes later, only for Ziyech to shoot straight at Steffen.
Chelsea had to back down after the failure, trusting Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger to stand firm. The pressure was relentless and Silva had to make way for Kurt Zouma. However, when Sterling fired, City’s race was run.