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article imageTactical Preview: Chelsea - Manchester City

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 19, 2016 in Sports
Manchester City and Chelsea both suffered key defeats over the past week, and a fifth round FA Cup win at Stamford Bridge represents the ideal turnaround.
Both outfits were considered title favourites in the summer — though the former remains in the hunt — but have considerably underperformed this season. In terms of silverware, this is possibly the best chance for either club, despite City’s showdown with Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final at the end of the month.
Chelsea have enjoyed a positive run under interim manager Guus Hiddink, but were outplayed in their midweek defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. City, on the other hand, performed better against Spurs, but failed to improve their woeful record against the top-sides in the division — Manuel Pellegrini’s men have yet to record a win against a top-four team.
Hiddink’s men don’t fall under this category but still present a stern test for City, whose away form is also underwhelming. Pellegrini, though, may assess City’s recent loss and realize that the removal of Fernando was significant in the latter stages.
Frankly, several injuries in the City squad suggests Pellegrini’s XI should be nearly unchanged. But with a Champions League round of 16 clash against Dynamo Kyiv looming, Pellegrini may be forced to rest a few players ahead of their midweek trip to Ukraine.
"For me the priority is always the next game, but this time we are going to have to make an exception because of the games and the amount of players we have available,” said Pellegrini.
"But when young players come in, the most important thing is they take their chances and we hope to see them produce the performances we know they are capable of."
Sergio Aguero’s pace should torment a slow Chelsea centre-back duo, while David Silva’s movement between the lines could also threaten a midfield that lacks structure. Yaya Toure’s physical presence would be matched by either Nemanja Matic or John Obi Mikel, while the key battle could see Raheem Sterling up against a very good 1v1 defender in Cesar Azpilicueta.
The combination of Fernando and Fernandinho offered improved protection for the City back four, but the former’s discipline will be tested against Chelsea’s tricky dribblers. Fernando fouled Dele Alli when he received possession between the lines on several occasions last weekend, and he must avoid sloppy challenges of that nature or risk a booking.
Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany should maintain their partnership at the back, but Pellegrini will hope Bacary Sagna is fit to play over Pablo Zabaleta at right-back. Aleksandar Kolarov and Zabaleta offer required width in wide areas, but based on Pellegrini’s caution this season, he’d prefer defensive-minded full-backs to cope with Chelsea’s threat on the counter.
The Blues will probably sit deeper to limit space behind the back four that Aguero will attempt to exploit, but the big selection issues rest in midfield. Diego Costa will attempt to work the channels, but has struggled against City because their centre-backs can match the Spanish international’s burst of speed and physicality.
Silva’s threat between the lines may encourage Hiddink to field Cesc Fabregas ahead of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel, leaving two wide positions available for four players. Willian — Chelsea’s best player this season — is guaranteed a start, and his ability to turn defence into attack remains pivotal to an occasionally static Blues offence.
This means Hiddink must choose between Oscar, Pedro or Eden Hazard. Pedro displayed his diligent defensive work-rate at PSG, and is slowly contributing to Chelsea’s attack in the opposing team’s third. Zabaleta’s previous difficulties against Hazard will intrigue Hiddink and the Belgian should receive more space to dribble against a City side lacking defensive discipline.
Nevertheless, Chelsea is bound to receive chances to break on the counter, and their key attackers will relish this challenge. Fabregas should be able to pick passes from deeper positions due to Toure’s work-rate, whereas John Terry’s injury enables both full-backs to join the attack — Baba Rahman will receive ample space to surge into with Silva drifting infield, and could build on his positive attacking display in Paris.
Considering the amount of technically gifted players, combined with the poor midfield structure on both sides, you would assume there would be goals here. But the caution displayed by both managers could result in a slow-burning encounter. City don’t necessarily have a legitimate route to goal in this set up but possess individuals that can instantly offer a moment of magic, while Hiddink’s Chelsea will remain confident that they will score at home.
“We have a serious approach to the FA Cup. We will take [City] and the FA Cup very seriously,” said Hiddink. “It’s difficult to get fourth position. And regardless of what it brings, it’s nice to go for the ultimate target, which is the FA Cup.”
More so, here, the first goal should be key because it will force one team forward, and present space for the opposition to exploit on the counter-attack. Still, Pellegrini's team selection will be decisive -- if he fields a youthful team, Chelsea will be heavy favourites to progress.
More about Chelsea, Manchester city, Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure
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