Last time City and Chelsea met back in December, it was a battle of two coaches in need of the win but for different reasons. Guardiola needed to break his team out of the slump they were in and Conte wanted to solidify his reputation as one of the best managers at that time with yet another victory. When the match ended Conte’s pragmatic counter attack had been the decisive weapon which buried Pep’s team.
Since then things have changed, Pep’s City have found more consistency in their play, despite a tough exit from the Champions League, and Conte’s Chelsea have recently suffered a tough home loss at the hands of Crystal Palace. That being said, tonight’s match should live up to expectations. So what can we expect from these two Premier League giants this evening?
To start, City have one day of rest less than Conte’s men. Twenty-four hours more rest may not seem like much, but it has been proven that those extra hours can make a world of difference. Not to mention that City played away at Emirates on Sunday whereas Chelsea hosted Crystal Palace on Saturday. If that wasn’t enough, City have to travel to Stamford Bridge. Before the match even begins, Chelsea have a slight advantage.
Tactically speaking, there is plenty to discuss as to how these two sides should square up. Obviously, City were torn apart by Chelsea’s lethal counter attack in their first encounter. The 3-1 score line in favour of Chelsea was not indicative of how well City played for the majority of the match, the problem being their poor defensive work in transitions and at times the deep ball to the lone striker as we can see in the following video.
This problem has since persisted, although has recently improved in the past couple of games could prove to be decisive in tonight’s match. One of Chelsea’s biggest strengths is their ability to quickly counter as the following example shows.
One aspect which Pep has evidently been working on is taking advantage of their skill on the wings with players like Sané and De Bruyne at times. They have improved their transitions, where perhaps in the past they simply were too slow to counter and they relied heavily on their organised attack. The following is an example of a good transition.
Both City and Chelsea have some of the best organised attacks in the league. They are both able to maintain possession and progress up the pitch efficiently. This allows them to control matches regularly. The question is, who will prioritise possession tonight? A betting man would side with Pep’s squad but don’t be surprised if Conte’s men feel comfortable enough to have long periods of possession. However, there are some differences in how each team approaches the final third.
Chelsea prefers attacking the wide areas with the final intention of reaching the end line to play a dangerous ball into the penalty area. With the help of their skilful wing players like Pedro, Willian, and Hazard, they consistently reach the end line, as the following video shows. The problem is if they will be successful in the service, and more importantly the finalisation of the play. Diego Costa is lethal in the box and if he has a good game he will surely be on the end of a few of these services.
Pep is a huge proponent of an organised defensive shape and you can tell there is an emphasis on protecting the end line and avoiding dangerous crosses. In the following video you can see how they shift their lines to overload the side with the ball to provide support to the first defender.
As far as City’s organised attack, they prefer to progress by attacking a space and then retreating the ball to the newly opened space, typically in the centre of the pitch. Their centre players are extremely effective in identifying open spaces on the weak side of the pitch and exploiting said space. The following video depicts some examples of this.
The key of the match might be which team is able to break the press better. We know both City and Chelsea will most likely press each other when the other is playing out from the back, however, whichever team gives the ball up less in these crucial moments could prove to be decisive. The following videos are examples of both teams struggling to deal with pressure in their defensive third and consequently losing possession.
Set pieces and aerial balls could be vital to both teams. City has struggled throughout the season to be firm with their clearances as the following video shows, and Chelsea could capitalise on this weakness.
All in all, this is going to be a cracking match which could change the course of the season. If City manages a win tonight, Chelsea could struggle mentally for the rest of the season as it would be their second loss in a row. On the other hand, a Chelsea victory could prove to be the final blow to City’s morale.