Manchester City have enjoyed a stunning start to the season but an away trip to reigning champions Chelsea this Saturday represents easily their biggest obstacle thus far.
To make matters worse, the Blues enter the 5.30pm kickoff on the back of a stunning win over Atletico Madrid in midweek, so confidence will be high at Stamford Bridge, while the Citizens face a series of serious injuries to key personnel. With one of the deadliest attacking casts in Europe at his disposal, returning to Manchester with all three points certainly isn’t beyond possibility for Pep Guardiola’s side.
It’s just a matter of the City gaffer finding the right answers to these three crucial questions…
Guardiola is notorious for springing tactical surprises on his opposite number in high-profile games and Saturday’s clash is certainly one of those. What’s more, the Manchester City boss has a vast and varied squad at his disposal – even in light of injuries to three important players – so he certainly has the tools to catch Conte off guard with a tweak in formation or a surprise selection.
Perhaps it’s too obvious a call by Guardiola standards, but matching up against Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation could do the trick having only utilised 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 so far this season. Matching up has become a common reaction to the Blues’ regular setup and although it didn’t work for most teams in the Premier League last season, it paid off for Tottenham in January and Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
It appears Chelsea struggle against high-quality opposition using their system against them.
Sergio Aguero’s car crash (get well soon) has thrown an incredibly unexpected spanner in the works, just days before the most important clash of Manchester City’s season so far. Inevitably, Pep Guardiola will have to make at least one change in personnel, but the bigger question is how that will affect the dynamics of his side going forward – something that could have a huge impact away from home.
If Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling start, for example, City will likely find much more joy counter-attacking the space down both flanks – which could drag Chelsea’s wide centre-backs into unflattering one-on-one situations. But if Guardiola turns to Bernardo Silva or decides to change formations as a consequence of Aguero’s injury, City’s build-up play will inevitably differ.
It’s vital Guardiola gets the message to his side that Aguero’s absence doesn’t only mean a change to the team-sheet, but also to how they go about winning the game at Stamford Bridge.
Many predicted Alvaro Morata would finally come into his own upon being issued a starting role at Stamford Bridge after several seasons as a bench option at Juventus and Real Madrid, but few believed he’d grow into his responsibilities so quickly – and score so many goals with his head.
Across all competitions, the Spain international has already notched up four headers this season, including an incredibly deft effort against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night, and City must be aware of the threat he poses in the air when they travel to west London this weekend – especially considering the crossing service Eden Hazard can offer from the left wing. Selecting three centre-backs would go some way to cancelling out that aerial menace, although that will likely hinge on whether Vincent Kompany recovers from injury in time for kickoff.
Another solution is quite simply having one centre-half man-mark the Chelsea front-man. Nicolas Otamendi seems the more obvious candidate over John Stones through his leap and power.