The Match of the Week
Chelsea vs. Manchester City:
Manchester City enters the tie coming off two convincing wins against Arsenal in the last week. They beat Arsenal 3-0 in the Carabao Cup Final on Sunday and then again beat them 3-0 in the league on Thursday.
Chelsea, on the other hand, enters the fixture with a sense of uncertainty about their recent form. They played two fantastic first halves against Barcelona and Manchester United. But they followed those up with two mediocre second halves causing them to drop points in both fixtures.
This match is immensely important for Chelsea. The rest of their competitors for Champions League spots have easier fixtures against teams close to the relegation zone. Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United should be able to get three points against Huddersfield, Newcastle and Crystal Palace respectively.
Chelsea’s Key for the Match
The main key for Chelsea come down to how their defense, specifically Andreas Christensen, deals with the potent Manchester City attack. Andreas Christensen has been a stalwart in the Chelsea defense throughout the year but has been at least partially at fault for each goal that Chelsea conceded against Barcelona and Manchester United. Most egregiously, he misplayed a backpass against Barcelona that was easily intercepted and Messi scored a few touches later. This is Christensen’s first full season in the Premier League so the taxing Premier League season could be taking its toll on him both mentally and physically.
The 3-4-3 that Conte set up Chelsea in during their title run last year, has not been as effective this year. A huge reason for this is because of Alvaro Morata’s relative incompetence leading the way up top. Starting Olivier Giroud over Morata and utilizing his prowess in the air would a new dynamic to Chelsea’s attack.
In addition, Conte will need to develop a way to deal with Manchester City’s inverted fullbacks. Manchester City utilizes its fullbacks in a unique way as they drop in centrally in order to overload the midfield. If Conte cannot develop a way to deal with this man disadvantage in the midfield, Chelsea will be under immense pressure throughout.
Manchester City’s Key for the Match:
Manchester City’s deadly attack has been well-documented this season as they’ve scored eighty-two goals, seventeen more than the next best team. Bernardo Silva, Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sane have all be in incredible form recently. However, the key for Manchester City in this match comes down to their mentality. Sixteen points clear of second place Manchester United, Manchester City has all but secured the title. They can afford to drop points from time to time without worrying much about their league position.
However, Pep Guardiola has brought a winning mentality to Manchester City this season that hasn’t been present in the past. Having already won the League Cup, winning the treble could easily be within the realm of possibility for Manchester City. Guardiola will emphasize the importance of avoiding a slip up in the league so they can clinch the title early. This would enable them to devote all resources towards winning The Champions League, something that has eluded them.
Expect Chelsea to come out of the gates with a point to prove. Conte certainly has stressed the importance of this fixture to the squad and they will start on the front foot. Chelsea have had a week to prepare for this game and Conte should set them up in a way that effectively neutralizes Manchester City’s front three. On the other hand, this is Manchester City’s third game in a week and they could come out slightly sluggish. Willian, Giroud and Hazard will provide a nice attacking spark for Chelsea going forward and they will score early on. However, as has the game goes on, the Chelsea defense to wear down. Their second halves against Barcelona and Manchester United were both poor and the trend will continue here. Manchester City will come back in the second-half and ultimately will further exasperate Chelsea’s second half woes. This will continue to increase the scrutiny Antonio Conte is under from both fans and pundits alike.
Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea
The battle to Avoid Relegation
Southampton vs. Stoke City:
Separated by just one point in the table, both teams will be eager to leave the match with three points and bolster their position in the struggle to avoid relegation. Both teams enter the tie in poor form with each team having just one win in their last five matches. With this being a true six-pointer, each manager is under immense pressure to motivate their squad to put in a good performance.
Stoke City’s Perspective
Both Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch have practiced in full this week and should be available for this weekend clash. Stoke City’s defense has been calamitous this year as they’ve conceded the most goals in the Premier League with fifty-four.
With Stoke struggling to score, Paul Lambert should begin to experiment with playing a second striker up top next to Peter Crouch. This would enable Crouch to utilize his height and allow his partner to play off of him. Mame Diouf fits this role well as he would thrive using his pace to run in behind the Southampton defense as Crouch flicks the ball on.
Stoke is the away side in this fixture and will likely set up as such. Lambert will have Stoke try to sit back and absorb pressure and hit Southampton on the counter.
Southampton has to be largely disappointed to be stuck in the relegation scrap in general as they were predicted to finish mid-table by most. Their quality is considerably better than the quality of other squads battling to avoid relegation. However, with a tough remaining schedule, including 5 of their last six games coming against teams in the top half of the table, it is key that Southampton picks up three points against teams toward the bottom of the table.
Manager Mauricio Pellegrino should avoid his usual conservative tactics and should instead put out an attacking side that puts Stoke’s defense under pressure. If Southampton wins, they will have a comfortable thirty points heading into their next two fixtures, both of which are winnable.
Paul Lambert will instruct his Stoke squad to sit back from the get-go and try to absorb pressure. However, Stoke struggles with defending players with pace. So, Mario Lemina should be able to utilize his skillful dribbling and pace to wreak havoc on their defenders. Southampton, on the other hand, struggles with defending balls in the air. Peter Crouch’s six foot six stature should prove to further exasperate Southampton’s struggles in the air.
Despite being an incredibly important tie for both teams, the actual soccer being played will probably be dull. There will be a scoreless first half before Southampton finally breaks through in the second.
Southampton 1-0 Stoke City.
Featured image by whoscored.com
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