For FA Cup semi-final number two, and what some would consider the de facto final, Chelsea and Manchester City will clash at Wembley Stadium with a return trip to the hallowed grounds on May 11. Both teams enter this match with ambitions to win the competition, with the winner facing Wigan in the final on that day.
In terms of form, both teams are coming off decent victories over the past week. While City convincingly saw off Manchester United last Monday night, Chelsea have beaten Sunderland in Paolo Di Canio’s first match and then had a few shaky moments in the second half, but advanced in the Europa League despite a defeat in Moscow.
The real question will be which side needs this victory more and who wants it more. For City and Roberto Mancini, this represents the last competition that they’re still in and the last chance at a trophy that could lessen the pressure on his job. For Chelsea, Rafa Benitez may be leaving, but that won’t stop him from wanting to win the FA Cup and the Europa League for his own résumé.
Needless to say, this clash should be an entertaining one.
City’s main weakness is their lack of ability to play in the wide areas of the pitch.
The one main problem that shows up in all of City’s poor performances is their inability to stretch defences that play tight and narrow. The one type of player that City do lack is a wide player that will attack from wide areas, whether crossing or cutting inside. The one thing about width is that it’s a tricky thing. Too much width and you’re not strong enough centrally. Too little width and you’re easy to defend against if you pack it in.
That’s the biggest issue for City is how to generate that width. They tend to press their fullbacks forward to do so, although you don’t often get much attacking threat from them. When you do, however, players like Pablo Zabaleta do make a difference in forcing a defence from side to side, which opens the spaces. The best way to defend them is almost to play narrow and try to pick them off on the counter.
However, countering City is easier said than done because of the versatility of Yaya Toure.
Interestingly, despite their narrow play, they also tend to be very hard to counter because once they get the lead, they will counter themselves through Yaya Toure. For me, Toure is their main player because he’s the only member of the midfield with the mobility as a holding midfielder to cut out passes from creative players, and he’s also the only player with genuine power and pace to threaten a midfield.
It’s been when he’s been absence to injury or international duty when his absence was felt the most. For as effecient as Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry have been in those deep areas, neither presents the same problems that Toure does, and he must be neutralized.
However, the biggest question is how much does he have left in the tank? In recent matches, he’s not been near his best, and you do wonder if the over-reliance on him at times for both club and country have depleted him just a bit and caused his drop in form.
What will Roberto Mancini do if David Silva cannot play?
This is an interesting conundrum because Silva, combined with the power of Yaya Toure, provides most of the silk and the power respectively of City’s attack. Silva will be given a late fitness test, but if he cannot go, it does give City a question: do you play Sergio Aguero or Carlos Tevez behind Edin Dzeko and play a modified two-striker system, or do you recall Samir Nasri who’s been off-form and Mancini’s heavily criticized as of late?
Without Silva, regardless of who replaces him, City do tend to lack the guile to unlock defences, especially ones that tend to pack in tight and not allow the space between the lines and the central areas. If Silva doesn’t play, it takes away a massive threat to Chelsea.
Rafa Benitez claims he found one or two things that could be improved to beat City after the last meeting. Could the first be his striker selection?
For the first time in the Benitez era, his striker choice will genuinely be complicated because both are currently in form. Though Demba Ba is coming off an ankle problem suffered against Sunderland, reports are that he has trained and will be available for the match. He’s coming off a great performance against United with the wonderful goal from the volley, and he played all right against Sunderland before coming off at the half.
On the other side, Fernando Torres is coming off scoring his 20th goal in all competitions to lead all Chelsea scorers against Rubin Kazan and has netted 3 goals in his last 3 appearances, not to mention playing a major role in the first goal against Sunderland.
What’s most interesting to me is that now that you can no longer pick which is on better form, for me, it comes down to what they offer. Ba was not terribly effective in the last match against City, primarily because of his tendency to want to play in the wider channels and make runs through the center. In the first meeting, he rarely threatened City’s center backs just because they simply had to cut out the through ball from deep, while pressing the midfield. Because he’s not as adept or varied in his movement or passing play, I think an in-form Torres might be the better choice to start, especially given Ba’s struggles in the last matchup.
The changing of the guard has started, and I think it’s a good one.
News coming out has been that both Frank Lampard and John Terry will both start this one on the bench. If so, it will be the first FA Cup match without them in a very long time, and I think is signalling that rotation is alive and well and that the side is changing.
It’s not the worst move. We saw against Rubin that Ramires gives the ball away too much from wide areas and is more effective when he’s driving forward from midfield, similar to the way that Lampard likes to play. This should mean that Ramires and John Mikel Obi will start, which might actually be the best central midfield pairing right now.
With Terry, it’s a different story. After seeing him against Southampton and again versus Rubin, it does seem like he may be on the physical decline. There have always been questions of when Terry’s injury history and his willingness to play through the pain barrier would catch up with him. Well, I think that time is now. Very often as of late, it seems that his mind is just as sharp as it ever has been, but his mind can no longer make up for his lack of pace, and let’s face it. When Rickie Lambert is able to start dusting you for pace, you may be starting to lose a step.