Match Preview: Chelsea @ Manchester City #MCICHE
Etihad Stadium | December 3, 2016
After a massive 2-1 victory over Spurs last week, it doesn’t get easier for Chelsea as they travel to the home of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Although they have cooled down after a torrid start, Man City remains a massive threat to Chelsea’s stake on the top of the Premier League, a fact that Eden Hazard and Chelsea are very aware of. A win for the Citizens on Saturday and it’s them who are number one, not Chelsea. Conte’s men did not look at their best last week, and may need to step up their game a notch to beat Aguero and Co. at the Etihad for the first time since 2014.
Although the clean sheet streak was broken, the win streak remains intact as Chelsea have now won 7 straight in the Premier League. They have relied upon their front three of Hazard-Costa-Pedro to lead the offence while their defence, once fragile and derelict at the start of the season, is tied with Spurs for the fewest goals allowed this season. However, they have not quite faced a challenge like the one they are about to face on Saturday. If there’s any manager that can figure out Chelsea’s system and understand how to exploit it, that manager would be Pep Guardiola. There is a good chance that if Antonio Conte goes into this game with the same strategies as the past few weeks, he will regret it. Tactically speaking, training this week will be crucial to ensuring the squad is ready physically and mentally for the game. Thankfully there are no major injury concerns to any of the regular starters, so like it has been for the past month or so there should be no lineup surprises.
Injuries: Terry, Mikel (out). Zouma (probable).
Manchester’s best football team (sorry United fans) come into this match on the heels of a successful November. They haven’t lost a single game the whole month, have kept themselves within striking distance of the Premier League summit, and beat Barcelona in the Champions League. Claudio Bravo isn’t making glaring errors anymore, Aguero is healthy once again, and unbelievably Yaya Touré is finding himself in the lineup and scoring goals again. This is a team that will not be intimidated by Chelsea’s current form, and possess the confidence to end the win streak.
City’s strong point this year has been their offence. They possess the league’s most lethal striker in Aguero and a midfield maestro in former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne. Nolito, Toure, and Sterling are sources of secondary scoring, although the latter is currently dealing with a knock. Where Chelsea may be able to exploit City, is in the back. Vincent Kompany was injured last week (surprise, surprise) which means that the center back pairing for Saturday will most likely be Kolarov and Otamendi with Sagna and Clichy at the full back positions. It’s an aging back line, Otamendi is the only one under 30 and he’s 28, and certainly not very fast. If Pep finds a way to hold them together and turn them into a more fluid unit than their age would suggest, it might be the key to winning this game for City.
Injures: Kompany, Delph (out). Sterling (probable).
Three Matchups to Watch
1. De Bruyne vs. Kante: this was immediately the first matchup that jumped out to me when I thought of this fixture. De Bruyne is considered by many to be the most creative midfielder in the Premier League, and Kante is regarded as the best defensive midfielder. This is shaping up to be a tantalizing showdown in the middle of the pitch. Whichever players gets the better of the other will win his team a key advantage in the heart of the midfield.
2. Aguero vs. David Luiz: in 161 Premier League games, Aguero has 112 goals. He is a former golden boot winner and has scored 20+ goals in a season three times. His finishing touche in front of the net are fatal to any team playing against him, and this Saturday David Luiz and the rest of the Chelsea backline will be charged in stopping the Argentinian. They managed to keep Harry Kane in check last week, but Aguero is very different in terms of his style of play. There are so many different ways he can beat you and if he does, City may very well snap the Chelsea win streak.
3. Hazard vs Sagna: while Sagna and Zabaletta have bounced back and forth in City’s right back spot, the safe bet is on Sagna to play Chelsea as he has played the last two Premier League games for them as well. The former Arsenal player whom Wenger once described as the best right back in the Premier League is a shadow of his former self at 33 years old. No longer a world class right back, news has come out just this week over his potential departure from City. If it is indeed him starting, he will be tasked with keeping one of the Premier League’s most explosive players in control. Not an easy task for any right back. Hazard will look for opportunities to blow past Sagna and create chances for himself and his teammates. Whether Sagna is able to stop him will be intriguing to watch.
- Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero spearhead the offences of their respective teams, and are tied for the Premier League lead with 10 goals apiece. The golden booth race is shaping up to be between these two, and you can be sure they will be motivated for this matchup against each other.
- Chelsea lost both matchups last season by identical 3-0 score lines. A win Saturday would help put those disastrous outings in the past.
- For those of you interested in football tactics and managerial battles, this is a must watch game for you. Conte places an emphasis on maintaining a strict shape on the field, while Guardiola is a master at finding ways to tinker with his positions with an aim to exploit the opponent’s weakness. Guardiola and Conte have never faced each other in a competitive fixture before, so what these two managers do for the first time against each other will be entertaining to say the least.