Friday, 2 December 2016

Manchester City v Chelsea Match Preview (03/12/16): Blues Ready to Step On Pep

They had us worried there, there’s no doubting that. When Spurs took the lead early in the game last week through Christian Eriksen, a shiver went up the spine of many a Blues fan.

At that moment in time Tottenham were, truthfully, dominating the early stages, and they continued to do so up until half time. Thank the stars then for Pedro, who curled home a beautiful shot to level up the match just as the two sets of coaches were about to disappear down the tunnel.

A goal just before the break is often a game-changer – imagine being in that Spurs dressing room! – and so it proved when the Blues bossed the second period. When Victor Moses fired home in the 52nd minute, hearts went from mouths back into chests and normal order was resumed. Tottenham STILL haven’t won at Stamford Bridge; a run which extends to 30 games dating back to 1990.

We may not have been the better side, but the three points is all that counts and right now the Blue boys are sitting pretty at the summit of the Premier League.

We suspected that this fortnight would go a long way towards determining our title hopes this term, and while Spurs have been brushed aside we know face the bigger threat of a trip to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola has got them playing some decent stuff, that’s no secret, but in our bones we fancy that there might just be an opportunity for Chelsea to come away from this game with a positive result. Time will tell.

Chelsea Team News

With seven wins in a row using essentially the same starting eleven, there really is no particular reason for Antonio Conte to change things up. He might be tempted to introduce Willian for Pedro as the Brazilian can cover more ground from a defensive perspective, but that would hardly be a progressive move and besides the little Spaniard has been in fine form in the last few weeks. If the Italian gaffer agrees with our assertion that the best way to beat City is to attack them, then Pedro will surely keep his place.

In our opinion it would be wrong to change this winning starting eleven just because we are facing a quality opponent away from home. That continuity helps to breed confidence and familiarity, and it is fair to say that this 3-4-3 system has been a roaring success. Conte would change it at his peril.

So, we anticipate an unchanged line-up once again:

Manchester City v Chelsea Head to Head

Really, you could make the same argument for both City and Chelsea here: any head-to-head meetings prior to the ‘money years’ are basically irrelevant.

Instead, we’re looking at those matches played since Roman Abramovich and City’s sheikhs came in to their respective clubs like a whirlwind; let’s say the summer of 2008.

Since then, it’s been W7 D3 L10 for Chelsea, with just one win in six meetings. City have certainly become a bit of a bogey team for us. We’ve only won once at the City of Manchester Stadium since the money years as well.

But this is a leaner, meaner Chelsea 2.0; and we’ve got a sneaky feeling that Saturday’s match might go better than might be predicted.

How the Match Will Be Won

First things first, Chelsea have to go out and win this game; rather than playing on the back foot and hoping to sneak a winner on the break. The 3-4-3 system lends itself to attacking football, while falling back and defending in numbers when the time is right. And, perhaps most pertinently, City can’t defend for toffee.

They have conceded in 11 of 13 matches this term remember, and that is unmistakably linked to the inadequacy of their defenders: if Manchester City is the richest club in the world, then a back four of Sagna, Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov suggests that somebody, somewhere, has been rather foolish with their money.

There are so many possibilities here: Costa will run riot playing on the shoulder of either Stones or Otamendi, and we expect Hazard and Pedro to be asked to play a little wider and isolate themselves against Sagna/Kolarov and prevent them running into the snapping tackles of City’s defensive midfield pivot, Fernando and Fernandinho. If Yaya Toure also starts, as he has been doing, then N’Golo Kante will run him into the ground.

Perhaps the key, though, will be in wide areas. If Hazard and Pedro do drift wide, then that will mean City’s wingers – Raheem Sterling and Nolito – will need to track back with Marco Alonso and the revelatory Victor Moses. There is only one winner in those battles, frankly.

At the other end of the pitch, clearly Sergio Aguero is an astonishingly good player. But remember the Chelsea system: three at the back. Even if Aguero sells David Luiz a continuous dummy, the steady Gary Cahill and ultra-reliable Cesar Azpilicueta are on hand to mop up. Alonso and Moses add extra bodies in wide areas, and depending on if Toure or Kevin de Bruyne starts we will still have the numbers in the middle of the park to overload.

Football, as beautiful a game as it is, very rarely goes as we expect it to. Even so, the key here is that Antonio Conte and his troops have absolutely nothing to fear from a trip to the City of Manchester Stadium. In fact, they have everything to gain.

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