How do you stop Manchester City from playing their stylish, bombastic and ultimately winning brand of football? Nobody really knows the answer, because despite defeat in a couple of dead rubber Champions League matches and the shock loss at Wigan, they remain unbeaten his term.
Some sides have tried to fight fire with fire – Arsenal attacked them in both the Carabao Cup and league matches, and were subsequently thrashed on both occasions.
Antonio Conte went about stopping City in his own way: lining up two walls of blue in an attempt to limit the space available to Pep Guardiola’s galaxy of attacking stars. It worked, to some extent, and we left Manchester with a disappointing but at-least-not-demoralising 0-1 defeat.
As ever, the Sky Sports pundits proved why they are sat in the studio rather in the dugout with their easy criticisms of Conte’s tactics. Gary Neville, a laughing stock in management after being sacked by Valencia in a matter of weeks, labelled the performance ‘absolutely unacceptable’, and the ever non-insightful Jamie Redknapp described the efforts as ‘anti football’.
Would they have applauded Conte if we had gone there, attacked and lost 2-5? No, of course they wouldn’t; they would be calling for the Italians head having decried him of losing the plot. But then what do you expect given that the Sky Sports boys only answer to themselves with their lazy punditry.
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Conte, good for him, responded in kind. “I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0,” he told the BBC.
“A few days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticised Wenger a lot because they conceded three goals in only 30 minutes.
“The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics, because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”
Putting that debacle behind us, we can look ahead to a week which will so way to defining Chelsea’s season. We entertain Crystal Palace on Saturday, travel to Barcelona for the Champions League last 16 clash on Wednesday, before heading to Leicester for the FA Cup quarter final on Sunday.
In ten days’ time we could be reflecting on a fantastic week for the football club; the opposite does not bear thinking about.
Chelsea Team NewsConte will have one eye on the Barcelona trip in his selection for this Palace match, of course, and it might lead to a few surprising selections here.
We know that Palace operate a rigid 4-4-2 system, with two big lads up front in Christian Benteke and Alexander Sorloth, so we can expect Gary Cahill to come in to combat that, with possibly Cesar Azpilicueta being given the night off.
One or both of the wing backs could be rested – Zappacosta in for Moses is most likely, while a conundrum presents itself in midfield with both Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ross Barkley on the treatment table. One way to get through Palace’s midfield line is to play an advanced midfielder who holds his line; leaving the Eagles’ midfield duo unsure as to whether drop back or press higher onto the deeper midfield two.
With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Conte tweaks his system slightly, with N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater playing behind Cesc Fabregas, who adopts a more advanced position.
We will play the false nine system in Barcelona, surely, and so Conte could take the opportunity to hand messrs Hazard, Pedro and Willian a rest here by deploying Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata in a twin attack, with the latter pulling slightly wider. Will the manager take that chance though?
Chelsea vs Crystal Palace Head to HeadPalace have, curiously, become something of a bogey team for us, wining at Selhurst Park in October and at the Bridge last April. All in all, they have won three of the last five encounters with the Blues!
Even more surprising is that the Eagles have won both of their moth recent trips to Stamford Bridge by a scoreline of 2-1.
At least Saturday evening’s game shouldn’t peter out into a bore draw. The last stalemate between these two came back in 1995 – 13 meetings ago – with two or more goals being scored in 10/13.
How the Match Will Be WonYou’d expect Crystal Palace to be down in the dumps after throwing away a two-goal lead against Manchester United on Monday, and that – coupled with their crippling injury list – makes them vulnerable here.
Analysing how this match will pan out is difficult in that we don’t know what kind of starting eleven Conte will field here; will he rest key personnel ahead of the Barcelona clash, or will he look to get back to winning ways prior to that season-defining encounter?
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We can take comfort in the knowledge that the way Palace set up can be exploited. The two lads in midfield for them have to work like trojans to cut out the supply line to the frontmen, but you saw in the United game on Monday how Jose Mourinho’s men improved in the second half when they played higher up the pitch and at a higher tempo too.
The object is to ‘turn around’ Palace with straight line balls into the feet of the frontmen, and that’s a style of play we have employed successfully for a while now.