Chelsea travel to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday to face a Manchester City side looking to make a statement after Manchester United took a firm hold on the top spot in the Premier League title race.
While pundits feel that it’s City who a win means more for, I’d argue that it means just as much or more to a Chelsea side who are currently sitting in 5th and will visit 3rd place Tottenham on Saturday, who are just four points ahead of the Blues.
A win at City can put the Blues within striking distance of 3rd place, and that is something that might have been unthinkable just two weeks ago.
However, it will not be easy as the Etihad has been a fortress that has seen City take maximum points from all their home matches.
Andre Villas-Boas was not too far off when he called City an “Italian” side. They play a very similar structured system.
If you look at the teams that Roberto Mancini manager at Inter and compare them with the current City side, there are many similarities. For instance, Yaya Toure is being employed in a similar manner to Patrick Viera, and City still attack with a very Italian three. One striker, one second-striker, one midfielder; that’s how City attack you.
Interestingly, their style is not that dissimilar to the style that we saw from Walter Mazzarri and Napoli, just with a different starting formation and a different set of player types.
But when you watch them, they rely very heavily on one of the two wide men supporting whoever is the lead striker with a midfielder joining the attack from deep.
Don’t ever underestimate the Carlos Tevez factor.
After everything that Tevez has said and done, you’d think his position was untenable at the club. Yet, here we are speculating on whether Tevez could feature against us.
To be honest, City need him. At the moment, the only attacker that’s firing is Mario Balotelli. Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko have gone cold and David Silva may be carrying undisclosed injuries because he’s nowhere near the player he was at the start of the season.
Tevez provides a spark and a moment of magic from a deeper role that no one in the side is producing. His appearance should be a concern because he’s had success against us in the past.
Vincent Kompany’s absence for City is a big factor for them.
Kompany picked up a calf injury two weeks ago and has not played since. His absence leaves a large hole in the central defence as Kompany has been the solid center back that City have been looking for when they bought both Jolean Lescott and Kolo Toure. Both will more than likely start, but neither has been terribly convincing in defence this season. Kompany missing the match would be a big factor in the solidity of the defence, meaning that Mancini will have to limit Toure’s movement forward to aid the midfield in protecting the back line.
Left back is the major weakness for City, so expect James Milner to start on the left to protect them against the Chelsea right.
Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy are both very good going forward. Neither of the two are particularly good at defending. Because Branislav Ivanovic and whoever occupies the right side (we’ll get into that in a moment) will have the opportunity to attack the City left back, I firmly believe that Milner will play simply because of his willingness to track back and protect that area. Regardless, City have a weakness on that side, and we should try to exploit it.
I am not opposed to giving Fernando Torres a chance to play on the right.
Behind Mata, Torres has been our most creative player this season. It’s something that we’ve lacked on the right side all season. Sturridge is great at running at the back line, but mentally, he’s still a striker. If he gets a sight of goal, he’s going to shoot, regardless of whether passing is the better option or gaps have appeared to play through the back line.
Against Napoli, Torres came on for Sturridge and confused Napoli to death. I don’t think you can play Torres and Drogba as an actual striker pair, but they way they interchanged positions from right wing to striker confused the Napoli back line and made it so that neither could be marked out of the game. It left us with two players who could both take the lead position but were also very capable of creating from those areas.
For those asking if Torres would be a defensive liability, I would say not. He’s shown much more of a willingness, even as a striker, to come back and put in a tackle if needed.
I’m putting this match down to a 1-1 draw. I think that a lot depends on how Mancini decides to attack. In the first match, he pressed forward hard, and we played on the counter, conceding the lions’ share of possession. I don’t expect that to happen again. The fact that we’re playing a man in the hole makes it a much more open game. I just don’t think that City can breach a strong defence very easily.