The Etihad Stadium plays host to a top four clash as Chelsea travel to Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola’s side looking to bounce back from defeat at Anfield previous to the International break which has left them nine points off the top.
Frank Lampard’s side have won their last six in the league since a defeat to Liverpool in September, and come into game in red hot scoring form. They will be looking to add to their tally of 27 goals in 12 league games against a Manchester City defence which once again showed its vulnerability against Liverpool, whilst Tammy Abraham will hope to add to his tally of ten.
Defensive worries have crippled City in recent weeks, however Rodri’s return, alongside that of John Stones, will have given City a boost, especially with an extra two weeks for the Spaniard to regain his fitness over the International break. Bernardo Silva’s energy will be a big miss in midfield for City, whilst N’Golo Kante’s timely return for Chelsea will be a massive plus for Lampard’s men.
With two sides who have demonstrated excellent attacking ability and at times suspect defending, it should be an enthralling encounter, with plenty on the line.
The shape which Guardiola will opt for in this game will be particularly interesting, following on from the 4-4-2 he opted for in defeat at Anfield, a gamble which backfired in the first half. Kevin De Bruyne’s positioning left him unable to influence the game in attack, and left the City midfield overrun, as they initially struggled to cope at Anfield. The damage was done early by two Liverpool goals which saw the City defence left exposed to the counter attack, and this could be an area where Chelsea look to capitalise on once again.
Although the opener itself was a fantastic strike from Fabinho (given a 2% chance on xG), the build-up play highlighted the susceptibility to quick breaks, particularly down the left flank, as Raheem Sterling defensive work was called into question throughout. Liverpool built 44% of their attacks down City’s left, and whilst Sterling was a key outlet up front completing eight dribbles and having four shots, his defensive work left Angelino exposed, and highlights a potential area of weakness if City choose a narrow, two-man midfield once again.
Liverpool also relied heavily on the work rate of their midfield three, and it would not be a surprise to see Chelsea look to do the same to cover the threat both centrally and wide. In N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Matteo Kovacic, they possess a midfield three capable of fulfilling the same roles in which Liverpool’s three did, although the role of Fabinho in Liverpool’s victory cannot be underestimated, and will require an excellent performance from the Italian Jorginho to replicate something similar.
Manchester City lacked tempo against Liverpool at times, but an increase in this would potentially see spaces open up in central and wide areas as they look to move around the Chelsea midfield much quicker. Key to this is the role of Kevin De Bruyne, who operated in a striking role against Liverpool and quickly became isolated, not able to exert the influence he would’ve liked on the game. If City can find the right balance in the middle of midfield, potentially by dropping the Belgian into his preferred deeper role, as well as up the tempo of their attacks, they should find a way to break down the Chelsea defence, particularly with the movement of Sterling and Aguero up against a back four which has conceded 17 goals this season. It would also help cover the space defensively by Sterling in the defeat at Anfield, so its fair to think the positioning of De Bruyne will have a huge bearing upon the game.
A rethink may be on the cards for the Spaniard, who is missing influential Bernardo Silva through suspension. The Portuguese midfield fulfilled his defensive work excellently to help stifle the attacking threat of Liverpool’s left side, as the majority of chances were created on through the right wing as Sterling’s defensive work left Angelino exposed. How Guardiola reacts to this will certainly be interesting, and the team news will open up a few interesting prospects, particularly when factoring in who is going to fulfil this role. The tackles completed market will certainly be of interest, as the player who fulfils this role will see a higher than average number, particularly in a game where possession stats will be lower than average.
The switches of the play against a very narrow defence helped bring Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson into play, particularly on the break, and it awaits to be seen whether Lampard will opt for a similar approach in his choice of full backs. Reece James has shown his tremendous attacking ability and box-to-box style which is suited to a counter attacking side and providing an overlap to his winger, however whether he it is he or the experienced Cesar Azpilicueta awaits to be seen.
Although Sterling’s defensive work can be questionable, his attacking output cannot be argued with, so the choice of full back, as well as the choice of winger in a defensive sense for Chelsea, will be key. Willian demonstrated in the away win at Ajax he is more than capable of fulfilling this role, and he will need to be well drilled once again to help cope with the threat of him and either Benjamin Mendy or Angelino overlapping from full backs. Emerson will provide a strong overlap on the wing to the left sided forward, and it would be no surprise to see Chelsea flood players forward on the counter attack, and look to demonstrate a similar tactical set up to what has served them well in Europe away from home, particularly against Ajax.
Tammy Abraham will lead the line for Chelsea on the back of his first England goal, and he is well suited up against Fernandinho at the back. The English striker’s combined pace and aerial ability has made him a nightmare for defenders this season, and the combination of his hold up play, coupled with the high line employed by City’s defence, could see a potential area of Chelsea to exploit. As touched on above, Chelsea will be a threat on the counter, and the onrushing midfielders of Chelsea will cause Manchester City problems, particularly the energy of the likes of Kante and Kovacic, and the tempo that Lampard’s side play at on the break will be well suited to catching out Guardiola’s side.
Chelsea have shown a tendency to play the ball out from the back, and although Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori’s ball playing ability has improved as the season has wore on, goals conceded at Southampton, as well as the penalty against Watford, has shown Chelsea’s susceptibility to a high press. A tactic City have employed excellently under Guardiola, the high-risk strategy could play into the hands of the well drilled attack and midfield of City, as they will look to win the ball high up the pitch and stop Chelsea from playing through. Jorginho and Matteo Kovacic have shown their tremendous ability to play through the press at times this season, and if they are to do so, it will open up a vacuum of space for the Chelsea wingers and attackers to exploit, of which the likes of Abraham, Willian and Mason Mount will relish the opportunity to do so.
It is hard to see past goals in this game. The open tactical approach, fast attacking play and currently less-that-water-tight defences of both sides lends itself to an exciting match. Priced at 1.80 (Bet365), both teams to score and over 2.5 goals particularly stands out when everything is considered above.
The goalscoring markets subsequently take appeal, and coming a defence that is both open to his pace on the counter, and can struggle against his aerial threat, Tammy Abraham to score anytime feels a big price at 43/20 (Unibet). Although over-performing his xG by 2.58 this season, the English striker is still getting 0.73xG per 90, showing Chelsea are continuously creating chances for him, and they should be able to create openings in what should be an open encounter. For someone with ten goals in 12 appearances, and full of confidence after his first England goal, it feels too big a price to turn down.