Chelsea: a Sarri state of affairs.
That pun was delivered to me by a Tottenham fan I know who foresaw Chelsea’s recent wobble which came, of course, against his favoured team.
However, the wind was taken out of Spurs’ sails in the north London derby last Sunday, although that fan may yet have the last laugh with a rampant Manchester City scheduled to arrive at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night.
Following Tuesday’s 2-1 win at Watford, Manchester City have now lost just two of their last 61 Premier League games and are on an unbeaten league run of 21 matches.
They are talented, technically superb, clinical, attack with pace and are head-and-shoulders the best team in the Premier League.
Following Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Wolves, Chelsea have now lost two games since the league season began, those defeats coming in their last three league games. Sarri’s honeymoon period is officially over. The freedom that Chelsea initially felt at the departure of Antonio Conti has been replaced by seemingly more fear. There’s a long debate that could be had on this subject.
Aside from that loss, going into Wednesday’s match at Wolves, Chelsea had kept four clean sheets in their previous five matches. It’s now four in six, of course.
The season’s numbers look impressive for Chelsea, but anyone who has seen them play recently against Derby, Bate Borisov, Tottenham, ten-man PAOK Salonika or even Fulham last Sunday will know that they look beatable and struggle for a plan B when one is required. Is the rigid approach of an Italian coach revisiting Chelsea?
Will Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea be able to cope with City’s potent threat?
If they show a lack of tactical flexibility in the way they did recently against Everton and Tottenham then the answer will be no. Man City will just press them into uncomfortable zones and force errors. They’ll probably do that anyway.
Will Chelsea’s defence be able to cope with a side that has scored 26 goals in its last seven matches?
The general feeling seems to be that the answer is no. For all his technical strengths when on the ball, David Luiz is prone to errors when asked to defend. Tottenham exploited this and City will be looking to do the same.
However, whereas Everton and Tottenham negated the effect of Chelsea play-maker Jorginho by surrounding him and restricting the time and space in which he could play, City won’t have to.
He won’t be given a free hand, of course, and he will be forced to play quickly, most probably from a deep-lying position with City actually restricting the space that he will be looking to play into.
If so then the hold-up play of the Chelsea forwards will be crucial. Watford’s physicality on Tuesday proved effective in this respect with the forwards helping to reduce – to a degree – the onslaught produced by City’s domination of play.
As such, Giroud surely has to play ahead of Morata, who is less robust than the Frenchman when it comes to physical play. If you give possession away easily, you’ll pay a heavy price against a side like City, not least because they play with speed.
City, by this stage, need no introduction. They are a joy to watch and maturing with each week that passes.
By contrast, Chelsea are a work-in-progress: talented, yes, but also easy to set up against because Sarri seems set on playing in a certain way regardless of the opposition.
His team selection will be interesting and the battles between Sané/Azpilicueta and Alonso/Mahrez or Sterling will be important. This said, with David Villa orchestrating things from midfield and having players who can create from wide or in the channels, they have creative flexibility in abundance.
Given this – and more – Chelsea are unlikely to keep a clean sheet against them. City have failed to score in just one game this season, which was away to Liverpool on October 7th and, as mentioned earlier, have scored 26 goals in their last seven matches in all competitions, although they have kept just two clean sheets in those games.
Overall, the bare numbers for the season may look impressive for Chelsea but – as mentioned in the form section of this piece – they now look very beatable.
On the other hand, City are powerful, feared and are playing consistently well within a system that everyone understands.
For Man City, Sergio Agüero missed the midweek game against Watford with an abductor problem and will miss out again (confirmed by Pep Guardiola on Friday). Kevin de Bruyne (knee) is still on the sidelines. as are Benjamin Mendy (long-term knee injury, set to return in February) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (foot injury, short-term).
In a press conference on Friday, Maurizio Sarri said that he had all players available.
It is hard to see past a City win against a talented but evolving Chelsea. A suggested scoreline is 3-1. With players like Eden Hazard, Willian, Pedro and the emerging Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea will always possess a goal threat. A win for City would give them a fourth-successive victory over The Blues.
There are any number of contenders for first goalscorer but Leroy Sané, who has scored five goals from his last five starts for City, is certainly in form. The match is a ‘Double The Odds On First Goalscorer Bets’ match with us (usual t&c).
Also likely is ‘Over 2.5 goals in the match’, which is on offer with us at 6/10.
(Prices correct at the time of writing)