Chelsea travel to the Etihad stadium for the second time in twelve days on Saturday evening for the FA cup fifth round tie against Manchester City. Chelsea supporters will be hoping for a repeat of the league win against them two weeks ago, but it may prove to be a tougher proposition this time.
The performance, and resulting victory against Manchester City was by far our most impressive of the season to date, a tactical master class from Mourinho, and real spirit and desire shown from every player on the pitch. Luiz and Matic were set up in the deeper midfield roles and instructed to pick up the runs of any City player ‘between the lines’ of our midfield and defence, and deny them room to operate. Both players carried out their duties to perfection, not only cutting out City’s attacking options, but both winning so many tackles in midfield, breaking up play and quickly distributing behind Toure and Demichelis to our attacking outlets. Mourinho had seen the weaknesses in Pellegrini’s patterns of play in his sides 4-4-2 shape, and exploited them mercilessly. Toure ventured forwards on most attacks, and Demichelis offered him little cover, and so when Luiz and Matic were able to gain possession, quick balls through the middle offered counter attacking chances all night. Willian was used through the middle, and was asked to drop deeper when defending to help stifle the Manchester City midfield, but also be quick in transition to attack to provide an outlet through the middle of the pitch and make use of the space behind. This was the first time we’ve seen him used in this way and he had an excellent match, working extremely hard both in attack and defence. Hazard was unplayable, running through challenges at will, and the backline was brilliantly organised to deny City at every opportunity.
It will require another faultless performance from every player to have a chance of repeating that tactically perfect showing. I would be very surprised if Pellegrini didn’t change his shape for the Cup match as a result of how well Chelsea managed to expose their weaknesses previously. The logical thing to do would be to add another midfielder to try to prevent being over run and exposed in the middle of the pitch as they were in the league encounter, whether this would be in a change to 4-3-3 or by asking the attacking midfield occupant to help out in a 4-2-3-1 system, similar to what Oscar does for us, remains to be seen. If he decides to stick with 4-4-2, then you would have to back Chelsea to expose the midfield again. If Pellegrini kept the same shape, he could play with a higher back line to help cover the midfield, but this could allow the pace of Hazard and Willian to expose them in behind. Either way Manchester City have questions to answer.
There are still injury concerns for the hosts as well. Fernandinho, who was badly missed in midfield for them in the previous fixture, is likely to be unavailable through injury, as is Aguero, who is key in the attacking third. At the back Nastasic is also unlikely to feature. This could see Demichelis moved to his preferred centre back position. Milner would more than likely come in to the midfield alongside Toure, plus maybe one other if they play with three centrally. Nasri is also out.
Chelsea have Torres returning from injury, and after getting 20 minutes against West Brom mid-week could be in contention to start, but Eto’o is more than likely to lead the line. As previously mentioned, Willian played through the middle against City before, but Oscar has returned there in the last two matches. Matic has been excellent since returning, and will likely feature here. Terry has missed the last two matches with what Mourinho described as “nearly an injury”. It’s unclear whether he’ll be fit to return, but with Cahill also taking a knock on Tuesday, we can only hope that one, if not both are fit. Luiz has pulled out some big performances in midfield against Manchester City, Liverpool, and Manchester United, so may be picked there again next to Matic. Mikel may be picked in that role otherwise.
It is set to be another fascinating encounter, and will be interesting to see the tactical approaches on show from both managers. It would also be interesting to see what the bookies think of Chelsea’s chances. Why not visit 888sport odds if you are that way inclined? Chelsea are the only side to have ‘doubled’ Manchester City in the league this season, hopefully Mourinho can continue to out fox Pellegrini.