Chelsea host reigning Premier League champions Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and Maurizio Sarri will be desperate to see his side bounce back from a midweek defeat at Wolves to claim a result against Pep Guardiola’s unbeaten outfit.
Ahead of this enticing encounter, Football FanCast has taken a closer look at the tactical factors that could decide the outcome of Saturday’s clash between these two famous hues of blue.
So effective going forward, but often somewhat suspect defensively, Chelsea left-back Marcos Alonso has the unenviable task ahead of him of containing the threat of Raheem Sterling.
The Manchester City forward has been in fine form so far this season, already having racked up nine goals and eight assists in all competitions. The 23-year-old’s pace, movement and inspired ability to combine with his teammates in the final third makes him a huge threat to Chelsea’s goal.
In order to try and limit Sterling’s capacity to wreak havoc, Alonso may have to temper his own attacking instincts somewhat. The Spaniard is not the most defensively minded of full-backs, but if he fails to stick diligently to his task then the Blues will almost certainly be punished for it.
However, even if Alonso is able to effectively nullify the 47-cap England man, the likes of Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva will all be on hand to take Sterling’s place.
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Both Manchester City and Chelsea love to keep the ball. They are the only two Premier League sides to have averaged over 60% possession per match so far this season – Guardiola’s men have averaged 64.3% of the ball per game, whilst Chelsea’s figure stands at 63%.
Neither side, then, will be happy ceding dominion of the ball to the opposition. That is not to say, though, that both teams use the ball in the same way once they’re in control of it.
Manchester City are much more fluid in their manoeuvrings of the ball, and of themselves off it. In advanced ares, players interchange their positions rapidly and seek to create confusion amongst the opposition ranks. Equally, with so many creative forces in their team, they’re never over-reliant upon a single playmaker. This makes them especially hard to defend against, as everyone is a threat and they’re all moving constantly.
Chelsea, on the other hand, take a far more structured approach. They also tend to funnel all of their play through Jorginho, who orchestrates attacking moves from the base of the midfield. The Blues are also more reliant upon moments of solo brilliance – hence such an attacking burden being placed on the individual ability of Eden Hazard.
As previously mentioned, Chelsea play their game through Jorginho. When it works, this system can be very effective. It can also be Chelsea’s undoing though, as both West Ham and Tottenham have proved so far this season, when they took measures to pay special attention to Jorginho in order to dramatically reduce his ability to dictate the game. In these situations, Chelsea failed to contrive alternative methods of creating regular chances.
With the Italy international systematically removed from the game, Sarri’s side struggle to muster a great deal of attacking threat. However, such a targeted approach, based upon stopping the opposition doing what they do, rather than focusing upon his team’s own strengths, is hardly Guardiola’s style.
The Spanish coach prefers to play the game on his own terms. More often than not, this philosophy works out well for him. However, not taking steps to shut down Jorginho opens the door for him to hurt City.
There is a chance that both Olivier Giroud and Mahrez will be included in Chelsea and Manchester City’s starting XIs respectively. The recent poor form of Alvaro Morata could see Sarri give the Frenchman the nod, whilst Mahrez’s goal against Watford last time out could see him retain his place in Guardiola’s first team.
However, assuming both return to the bench for this weekend’s big game, then they could both feasibly play the role of game-changers.
Having an impact from the bench is Giroud’s speciality these days. The 32-year-old is second on the all-time list of Premier League substitute goal-scorers – behind only Jermain Defoe. The World Cup winner’s aerial presence, hold up skill, and ability to link play with his attacking teammates makes him an ideal target man, and also offers Sarri a method of adding some variation to his side’s approach play.
Mahrez, meanwhile, is simply a player of such wondrous talent that he is capable of producing something spectacular at times when those around him may be struggling. Tired Chelsea defenders, run ragged by the likes of Sane and Sterling, must dread the prospect of a fresh Mahrez being introduced to the fray in the game’s latter stages.