The Big Match Tactical View: Manchester City v Chelsea
The weekend's standout clash features Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea travelling to face Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle and Alan Thompson provides the betting lowdown.
"Eden Hazard’s ability to play give-and-goes, and his speed on the turn, could be crucial."
Manchester City v Chelsea
Sunday 16:00, Sky Sports Football
Match Odds: Man City [1.5], Chelsea [7.4], The Draw [5.0].
Manchester City suffered their first defeat of the season in the reverse fixture, a 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge, but Pep Guardiola will remember that his side dominated the opening proceedings, and only a goal against the run of play changed the balance of the game. City will expect to gain revenge over Chelsea this weekend.
City to use more conventional system?
City came into the Premier League weekend back the top of the league, albeit having played a game more than Liverpool. Their defeat to Newcastle 10 days ago briefly seemed like it might prove fatal, but suddenly the title race is alive, and City have the chance to win their third game in a row.
Guardiola used an unusual system for the 3-1 victory over Arsenal last weekend, a fluid formation that shifted between 4-3-3 and 3-2-3-2, with Fernandinho pushing forward and dropping back accordingly. Guardiola will probably use a more conventional system here, however, with John Stones likely to return at the heart of the defence.
Nicolas Otamendi could retain his place here with Aymeric Laporte at left-back, where he offers more defensive protection than Fabian Delph. Kyle Walker will continue on the right.
Bernardo becoming Guardiola's big game player
Ilkay Gundogan is likely to drop out if Fernandinho returns to a conventional midfield position, with David Silva playing to the left and Kevin De Bruyne to the right - he's usually heavily involved against his former club.
In the front three, Bernardo Silva consistently plays well in big games, and it would be harsh to drop him after last weekend's fine performance against Arsenal. Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez are alternative choices, but against Marcos Alonso, Guardiola may want someone who can defend well, as well as drift inside to create.
On the other flank, Raheem Sterling created two goals for Sergio Aguero last weekend and may again play on the left. There's a chance Sane will return, of course, which would probably mean Sterling switching to the right flank, but last weekend's approach worked well.
Sarri won't stray from 4-3-3
Maurizio Sarri never strays from his 4-3-3 formation, and there are likely to be few surprised here. Kepa Arrizabalaga will play behind a defensive unit of Alonso, David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta. In the reverse fixture, Chelsea's breakthrough came after David Luiz played one of his trademark long diagonal balls, and Rudiger is also fully capable of playing good passes out to the flanks.
Jorginho will sit deep in midfield and attempt to dictate the play, but you can expect City to have some kind of particular plan to press him heavily. N'Golo Kante's energy will be required in deeper positions, while Ross Barkley seems likely to start to the left of the midfield trio, with Mateo Kovacic struggling for form and contributing little in the final third.
Higuain likely to lead the line
Upfront, there's the perennial question about Chelsea's centre-forward. Gonzalo Higuain scored twice against Huddersfield last time out and should start here - but there's a chance that Sarri won't be convinced he has the speed to run in behind, and return to using Eden Hazard upfront, with Willian and Pedro Rodriguez either side.
If not, the latter two will be battling it out for a place on the right flank - Pedro might be better against a high defensive line, and his tactical intelligence might work well against a side managed by his former coach, Guardiola.
Chelsea will look to draw City's press before playing quick passes through their lines, as they did so effectively in the reverse fixture. Hazard's ability to play give-and-goes, and his speed on the turn, could be crucial against Walker, who will stay in deep positions but has struggled defensively this season.
City, meanwhile, will focus on getting their wingers in behind Chelsea's full-backs - Alonso often finds himself too high up the pitch and caught out at transitions - while De Bruyne and Silva may drift around in an attempt to overload Chelsea in the channels.
City are clearly favourites, but I think Chelsea could surprise them and get some joy through Hazard. The Draw looks good value to me, at [4.9].
The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson
Manchester City were far from their best against Everton midweek, doing enough with goals in time added on at the end of each half to lift themselves back to the top of the table. They face a tougher task against a fellow top six side in Chelsea on Sunday. The Blues beat the champions at Stamford Bridge (2-0) back in December but the Citizens have won the previous three meetings without conceding.
Chelsea have lost their last three Premier League away trips to nil and it's four if you include the first leg semi-final of the EFL Cup at Tottenham. The last time they scored on the road was in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at the end of December.
City have been outstanding at home all season, the blip against Crystal Palace being the only points they have dropped. Since that defeat they have won all six of their games on home soil, scoring 29 goals in the process and conceding just the two.
After getting humiliated on their last away trip (4-0 at Bournemouth) I am sure Chelsea won’t want to be on the wrong end of another heavy defeat but I don't think they have the ability to get anything out of the game. Manchester City to Win to Nil looks an option at around about [2.8] but my preference is for Man City -1 & -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at anything around [2.2].
Michael: Back the Draw @ [4.9]
Alan: Back Manchester City -1 & -1.5 on the Asian Handicap v Chelsea @ [2.2]