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Chelsea v Man City key battlezones

This isn’t exactly a title decider – Chelsea have too much of a points advantage, and we’ve only played roughly half of the Premier League season – but it could turn out to be the season’s decisive fixture. If Chelsea triumph, Jose Mourinho’s side move eight points clear, and could be out of sight.

We’re set for a fascinating tactical battle between two managers who don’t like each other – Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini repeatedly clashed in Spain, and have had disagreements in England too. Here are five potentially key battlezones…

chelsea man city key battlezones

Hazard v Zabaleta

Eden Hazard mesmerised Pablo Zabaleta in this fixture last season, terrifying the Argentine with his sheer acceleration, and producing one brilliant treble-turn which left his opponent on the ground. This will be the most important individual battle of the game.

Hazard can beat Zabaleta on the outside or check inside onto his right foot, but his one-twos with Diego Costa are also extremely dangerous. That’s a move Hazard continually attempted against Liverpool in midweek, and it’s interesting that City looked vulnerable to this move in their Premier League defeat to Arsenal – Vincent Kompany conceded the penalty for Arsenal’s opener when fouling Nacho Monreal after the Spanish left-back played a quick one-two.

Zabaleta’s nightmare scenario would be an early booking – Hazard wins free-kicks frequently, and is keen to let the referee know when he’s fouled.

David Silva v Nemanja Matic

This could be a fascinating duel, with Silva likely to cause Chelsea positional problem with his lateral movement, always trying to find space either side of the holding midfielders, and Matic trying to stamp his authority on the contest from the outset.

Matic was superb in Chelsea’s 1-0 win at Manchester City last season, although he required help from John Obi Mikel, who was also outstanding. That created a solid shield for Chelsea’s defence, which isn’t always obvious if Cesc Fabregas starts alongside Matic. If that’s the case, Matic will have a big responsibility for stopping Silva solo, but Mourinho might consider beefing up his midfield – especially if Fabregas fails to recover from the hamstring strain he suffered against Liverpool in midweek.

Silva’s a brilliant creator himself, but he also created space for others too. James Milner and Fernandinho, players who can drift into that space, might be crucial in the absence of Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure.

Aguero’s pace v Chelsea backline

Sergio Aguero scored a stunning goal in this fixture last season, receiving a Samir Nasri pass in the inside-left channel when running in behind the defence, then producing a stunning, first-time, left-footed shot high into the near side of Petr Cech’s net. Chelsea’s defence could only stand and watch.

This will be Chelsea’s main concern this weekend. In recent weeks they’ve looked vulnerable to direct attacking – see the way Tottenham and Liverpool caused them problems with quick forwards, or the manner Sadio Mane opened the scoring in the 1-1 draw at Southampton.

Gary Cahill and John Terry are a very good centre-back pairing, but they lack pace, which is something Aguero has in abundance. Thibaut Courtois, meanwhile, will need to be extremely alert to the threat of through-balls, and might be required to make an important one-on-one stop against Aguero at some point.

Fernandinho v Ramires

Depending upon Mourinho’s team selection, this battle may or may not happen – but it could be very interesting. These are similar players – energetic Brazilians who specialise in shuttling forward from a right-of-centre midfield positions, and they’re forced to compensate for the absence of a more creative talent. Fernandinho is effectively playing the Yaya Toure role, while Ramires will probably start if Fabregas misses out.

Fernandinho and Ramires met during Shakhtar Donetsk’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the Champions League two seasons ago, with the former dominating in a pacey, end-to-end battle, and charging forward to score Shakhtar’s crucial second goal. The two play similar roles for the Brazilian national side, so there’s healthy competition between them.

Should he start, Ramires will be tasked with bringing defensive discipline to the side, while Fernandinho must show his attacking qualities and burst forward to join the attackers. As a head-to-head clash, this could be fascinating.

Chelsea’s set-pieces

Chelsea are likely to have a height advantage over Manchester City for this game, and attacking set-pieces could be one of their most promising routes to goal, especially if they’re more cautious in open play than we’ve become accustomed to this season.

Depending upon Mourinho’s team selection, Chelsea could have John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, Filipe Luis, John Obi Mikel, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa all over 6’0. In stark contrast, City might only have Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis (or Eliaquim Mangala) and Fernando. Therefore, Pellegrini might consider playing Edin Dzeko, partly for his extra height, while Aleksandar Kolarov will probably get the nod over Gael Clichy at left-back.

Ivanovic’s header won the midweek Capital One Cup tie against Liverpool, and Chelsea’s defenders have a knack of scoring vital goals in big games – if Fabregas is fit and swinging in his dangerous set-pieces, City could be troubled.

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Posted in , Premier League, Zonal Marking | 2 comments

January 29th, 2015 by Michael Cox

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