Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Chelsea v Manchester City Match Preview (05/04/17): Honours Even in Grudge Match Return?

Well, that was unexpected. After Chelsea took a fifth minute lead through Cesc Fabregas on Saturday against Crystal Palace, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of onlookers would have predicted a comfortable home win.

But back came the Eagles, and after Wilfried Zaha’s mazy run and shot equalised, the Ivorian set up Christian Benteke for the cheekiest of finishes to hand the visitors a 2-1 lead after just eleven minutes.

Not to worry: the Blues had 80 minutes to turn the deficit around, and despite huffing and puffing – we fired 24 shots at the Palace goal and won nine corners – the breakthrough simply would not come.

That brought to an end a run of ten straight league wins at Stamford Bridge and an undefeated streak there that dates back to September.

Antonio Conte was typically magnanimous in defeat. “This is football. We must accept this result. "In every game in England, anything can happen. The league is so strong. We faced a team today with strong players. I think they showed they were a good team.

“Now we have to think about the next game.”

That mindset will stand his players in good stead for Wednesday’s huge clash with Manchester City. Victory, or even a point for that matter, will enhance our chances of lifting the Premier League trophy against an outstanding side in Pep Guardiola’s men.

As Conte says, we must accept defeat against Palace gracefully, and not dwell on the minutiae. The players have an immediate opportunity to rectify the situation in midweek, and they look well primed to do exactly that.

Chelsea Team News

The absence of Victor Moses is Chelsea’s only injury concern at the moment, but it has to be said his absence poses quite a quandary for Conte.

The Nigerian suffered a calf strain a few weeks ago, and despite trying to nurse his way through training unfortunately he had to miss the Palace game – where he was sorely missed at both ends of the pitch, and again he looks set to miss out on Wednesday too.

Conte decided to field Pedro as his right wing back against the Eagles, and in truth it didn’t quite work. Palace boasted a lot of pace down that side with Andros Townsend and Jeff Schlupp, and occasionally the Spaniard was found wanting from a defensive perspective.

As such, we’re hoping that the manager shuffles his pack to cater for a similar threat from City in midweek. They will have either Leroy Sane or Raheem Sterling down their left, with Gael Clichy or Alexandr Kolarov bombing up in support from left back.

The potential for an overload does not bode well, and so surely the better option would be to play Cesar Azpilicueta at right wing back to deal with that threat first-hand, and then Pedro – a harder worker than Willian – could slot into the right-wing role to track back with Kolarov/Clichy. It’s a more conservative approach, granted, but avoiding defeat on Wednesday is essential.

Conte would be loathe to disrupt his settled back three in normal circumstances, but here it would be justified.

Replacing Azpilicueta at centre half would presumably be Kurt Zouma, who is largely untested this term other than a few FA Cup appearances but who at least would have Gary Cahill and David Luiz alongside him for support.

Chelsea vs Manchester City Head to Head

For the past decade or so this has been a fixture played out between two of the Premier League’s most outstanding sides, and they tend to deliver an excellent spectacle accordingly.

The overall head-to-head, which dates back to 1907, sees Chelsea leading 65-52, with 39 draws.

But we are more interested in those head-to-heads from the past ten years, and these show Chelsea to boast a narrow 11-10 lead, with three draws. Historically, there’s nothing between the two teams.

The last five encounters between the two at the Bridge have yielded a W2 D2 L1 return for the hosts, and of course who can forget their last meeting: Chelsea winning 3-1 at the City of Manchester Stadium which descended into chaos in the last few minutes, with Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho both sent off.

Will there be any lingering bad blood between the two teams to consider?

How the Match Will Be Won

The temptation when playing a team with a galaxy of attacking stars like Manchester City do is to retreat into your shell and let them dictate the game.

Yes, we’re advocating a defence-minded reshuffle that will see the right-hand side strengthened, but we certainly believe that Chelsea’s best chance of winning this game is to attack their opponents. And, being a shrewd operator, we suspect Conte will agree.

Take a look at Manchester City’s away results against some of the division’s stronger sides: 0-4 (Everton), 2-4 (Leicester), 0-2 (Tottenham) and 0-1 (Liverpool). When playing away from home against elite opposition, the Citizens tend to flounder.

Pep Guardiola’s main issues are defensive. Claudio Bravo is simply not justifying his tag as an excellent goalkeeper with both feet and hands, John Stones remains a walking disaster and Bacary Sagna missed the match through injury. Will Guardiola be tempted to play his best defensive midfielder, Fernandinho, as a right back (as he has done already this term) to counter the threat posed by Eden Hazard?

As mentioned, if Chelsea focus on their strengths – which correlate with City’s weaknesses – they will win this game. As we saw in the reverse fixture, the Blues are devastating on the counter attack, and Hazard vs Fernandinho is a battle that most home fans will be licking their lips in anticipation at: the Belgian has the beating of the Brazilian.

We will need discipline at the back of course to counter their threat, but with Azpilicueta (hopefully) at right wing back, extra authority on the flanks will be achieved.

Remember the date: Wednesday April 5. This could be the day that Chelsea sealed their Premier League title.

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