The Enjoyable Experiment in Manchester City is a lesson for Frank Lampard


Phil Foden could be seen at Stamford Bridge in the 43rd minute, slipping through the debris, the demolished ramparts of the right flank of Chelsea, with two sky-blue jerseys waiting inside for an invitation to score. Within, Foden laid the ball to Ilkay Gündogan, who did a backward pirouette and heel shot just past the post at that moment. The game seemed to be dropping a little at that moment, losing its clear edges.

At that point, Manchester City were 3-0 up. They worked themselves into a frenzy, ecstatic of their own movement. But it was different here. This was a squad in the Premier League having fun.

That’s real fun. This is going to hurt. Foden had already scored a second goal for City, followed by two moments of genius from another advance down the left. First, by diving back offside as Kevin De Bruyne’s first-time pass came back to him, he did something unusually wise. De Bruyne then showed a moment of ferocity, waited, waited a little longer, and then slipped through César Azpilicueta’s legs with the vital move. Foden scored with a fantastic leap, the ball clinking beautifully as it reached the post in the corner of the net. City was exciting on both sides. In 16 minutes, they scored 3 goals. In confusion, they left Chelsea’s full-backs. They were romping and prancing. They’ve been having fun.

And at times it seemed like a real-time experiment: what happens when a long-term sporting project meets a bet on talent and celebrity with the same plans, the same packed strategy at all levels.Phil Foden shines in the emphatic win over mediocre Chelsea in Manchester CityContinue readingTwo things happened here. Before you pull out the big, creaky finger of blame, the key point is that City was wonderful, a completely networked squad talking to themselves in an internalized high-speed code. Before kickoff, when City began with six midfielders and a converted full-back, it looked like a Pep tribute eleven.

But this was something new, a testament to this season’s own improvements for Guardiola.

The city had the lowest share of ownership.

Yet in the first half, they had 11 shots on target and often seemed to be competing with their rivals. Foden embodied the specific goal.

He touched the ball 18 times in the first half, gave up one penalty, scored one, and broke up and down the left side like a Labrador puppy.

Guardiola could be seen whispering in the ear of Foden on his way out at halftime, spouting suggestions, directions and praise. The equivalent of a manager flicking the ball up with his knee before shooting it full-on into an open goal was showboat coaching. Pep, we get it. The second thing that happened was that Chelsea had just fallen out.

The town pressed and discovered no opposition. Oh, Frank. Frank.

Olivier Giroud had indicated before this game that Frank Lampard had worked on “every tactical part” of City’s game. This, Giroud said, was a special project for Lampard, an opportunity for the king of modern possession to think beyond the tactical box and share ideas. Indeed, Lampard sent Werner, Ziyech and Paulisic to his most brilliant forward line on the pitch, a high-powered trident who has scored just six goals this season in 41 league games. The concept seemed to be that Chelsea would crack and exploit the spaces on the flanks easily. But what are we able to say? The precise opposite was the case.

City broke into the rooms of Chelsea and manipulated the gaps in Chelsea’s own flanks. Once again, Lampard could be tempted to blame his players’ “character” Maybe he was better off practicing his lessons.

Defeats, too, are useful. Was it a smart idea to conjure up an alternate back three that seldom played together, and did it do so with little success when it did? Why would you ask Azpilicueta to play against the major overpayers as an exposed semi-fast right-back? When it becomes apparent that your team can deal with three central defenders and no No. 9, why not react? After Chelsea slump to a narrow loss, Frank Lampard plays down the pressureRead moreThere were five high-priced Lampard-era players in this group. With poor areas vulnerable to the strengths of City, the entire build-up to the game lacked intensity. There was no adjustment as the light blue shirts began to swirl and dance through the lines.City’s third goal felt like the most painful moment for the pre-game Lampard tactical study group.

De Bruyne was going for Raheem Sterling with a long ball, and instantly Sterli was


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