This Sunday afternoon provides the match of the round when Chelsea travel to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City, where the Blues will be hoping to complete the double over the reigning champions having ran out 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Pep Guardiola’s men have been handed a way back into the title race after Liverpool failed to capitalise on the Citizens’ 2-1 loss to Newcastle last month, only being able to muster up two 1-1 draws with Leicester and West Ham as the chance to move seven points clear evaporated.
Chelsea find themselves in strange form, having responded to their 4-0 defeat away to Bournemouth with a 5-0 thrashing of Huddersfield at Stamford Bridge, so it will be interesting to see which version of Maurizio Sarri’s team turns up.
With both teams focused on playing a possession-based game it looks set to be an enticing affair, and here at Football FanCast, we’ve taken a look at the tactical factors that could decide the outcome…
Sarri’s decision to play Kante further forward this season and have him attempt to win the ball back higher up the field should see him come face-to-face with the Citizens’ key cog in Fernandinho.
Guardiola relies heavily on the Brazilian international to win the ball and keep things tidy in the middle, although he doesn’t face the relentless pressure of players such as Kante on a weekly basis.
The France international has averaged 1.8 tackles per league game this season, so if he can target Fernandinho and take the ball from City’s defensive shield, the champions’ backline will be instantly exposed to the threat of Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain.
The Blues have been guilty of keeping the ball for the sake of it this season, with no real threat coming from their substantial possession in most games so far.
City are contrastingly ruthless with their use of the ball, carving teams apart by getting inside the full-backs and squaring for any player in sky blue to tap into an open net.
It is unlikely that either manager will change his tactics for the game, so it remains to be seen whether or not Chelsea can be more efficient with the possession they have.
In the reverse fixture in west London, Kyle Walker was completely exposed by the Blues and at fault for Kante’s opener.
However, this time around, it is one of Chelsea’s full-backs in Marcos Alonso who will come under the spotlight. The Spanish international was dropped for the 4-0 loss to Bournemouth in favour of Emerson Palmieri as Sarri potentially lost patience with him, although he was restored into the lineup against Huddersfield.
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This can only suggest that the Italian boss isn’t really sure who he prefers in that area right now, an indecisiveness that City must target and look to exploit through Raheem Sterling.
The England international has scored a number of goals coming in from the right to meet a low cross from the left, so unless Alonso stays focused, the former Liverpool forward could have a field day.
Algerian international Mahrez looks set to start on the bench having lost his place out on the right flank, although he offers a vastly different option to Sterling or Bernardo Silva out there.
The 27-year-old likes to hug the touchline and dribble infield, whereas Sterling likes to stay more central – if the space if being shut out in the middle, Mahrez’s ability to create width could be a useful weapon.
In Giroud’s case, the Frenchman offers a excellent plan B option if Sarri wants to play more direct football, which would be an decent option if City dominate the possession; either way, both men have the ability to change the game if they come on from the bench.