A cup clash between City and Chelsea promises to provide a fascinating tactical battle with similarities in the shapes of both sides. Frank Lampard has mainly utilised the 4-1-2-3/4-3-3 this season, the tweak in the formation is dependant upon the opposition and whether the manager feels Jorginho’s role as the midfield pivot is necessary. In the opposite side, Grant McCann has usually operated with a 4-1-2-3/4-2-3-1 formation, the latter is often used at home with the two central midfielders used as shutters, as opposed to the pivot that Chelsea use which acts as the defensive screen.
Chelsea are likely to overhaul their personell with at least five changes expected to made to the XI that drew with Arsenal. An area of change that could cause defensive issues is the back four; Reece James, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori and Marcus Alonso could all be called upon. Whilst in the attacking areas Lampard is expected to award Ross Barkley, Mason Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Pedro and Michy Batsuayi with starts.
City, however, are without defensive reinforcements Jordy De Wijs and Matthew Pennington so McCann will draft Tafazolli into the heart of the backline with the full back areas providing the manager with a dilemma. McLoughlin is the obvious choice at left back, while similarly shuffling Da Silva in at right back and moving Lichaj to left back could well be the option that McCann goes for. Grosicki is a potential injury doubt so that could see Martin Samuelsen starting out wide with a speculating midfield three of Batty, Irvine and Kane. Bowen is also likely to spearhead the attack, with Tom Eaves and Josh Magennis waiting in the wings on the bench.
Chelsea’s wing play: a danger
It is no secret to know that City will operate in a low block in an attempt to combat Chelsea’s attacking power. But how will the visitors attack in order to break through a well-drilled, compactly set up defensive shape?
In their previous game against Arsenal, Chelsea had joy in the wide areas by shifting the ball to the flanks and crossing to create goal-scoring attempts. Lampard’s side would abandon the congested central area and focus their play out wide. This tactical emphasis could be a cause of concern for City as the high starting position of their wingers, usually leaves them prone to a 2v1 situation in the wide areas.
Lampard set up a meticulous way of accessing the flanks by instructing his wingers to tuck alongside Abraham. The subsuquent inside movements would allow the overlapping full backs to push high and provide ammunition into the penalty area. Chelsea’s movement meant that they were able to find the full backs with two passing options: a diagonal pass from deep or a pass from the ball-side centre half.
The key to preventing this is sitting deep and allowing no space inbetween the lines, if the ball is switched into the wide area then it’s the job of the winger to track the marrauding full back, while the defending full back needs to follow the run of the winger who tucks inside. An issue that could arise is Grosicki’s lack of urgency to defend; his unwillingness to track runners could leave the full back vulnerable to opposing quality out wide.
Lampard’s variation of this approach was implied when he encouraged the full backs to play in the half spaces which created more space out wide for the winger. This was also made possible through the midfielder’s intelligence to drop inbetween the lines, in this instance; it was Kante who placed himself in the opposition third where he was used as a decoy to confuse the full back. This subsuquent movement foraged a 1v1 situation for the winger, a predicament that Eric Lichaj or the left back chosen could face against the lively, talented Hudson-Odoi.
Chelsea’s rotations cause defensive issues
Azpilicueta’s half-space runs also caused Arsenal’s defensive line trouble. This freedom given to his offensive players is something City will struggle to deal with. The winger would be expected to track the run of the full back into the area, while the full back would try to block the supply to the run of the opposing defender. A variation and overload in attacking play is key to unlocking a low block.
How to combat Chelsea’s attacking play (in theory):
In truth, playing against a top opposition doesn’t alter much of McCann’s intitial game plan which would be to play on the counter-attack, something his side has done pretty much all season. But something that does have to change is the amount of pressing that his side applies to the opposition, a style of defending that can leave you vulnerable defensively, while creating profitable inroads in the attacking third.
A variation of pressing is the stagnated press, City could do this by pressing from the front in order to prevent Chelsea from building attacks smoothly from the back. Grosicki and Bowler, or whoever is deployed out wide could play narrower in order to instruct Chelsea to play through their full backs. The forward (Eaves or Bowen) should be tasked to press the on-ball centre while closing the ball far centre back through his cover shadow. By closing the space in the defensive areas to construct attacks, Chelsea would be forced into playing long balls where City’s centre halfs are comfortable in dealing with any aerial threat.
Chelsea normally function through Jorginho whose range of passing and ability to find the two attacking midfielders operating through the thirds, is something City ought to be wary of. Should the Tigers look to halt the visitors in any way, this could be done by allowing Irvine or Kane to man mark the Italian when Chelsea are building from the back. If Chelsea manage to play through the initial press then, in theory, the other two midfielders are there to slow down Chelsea’s attacks or mop up any danger.
Whilst this theoretical plan is devised and taken from a previous game, combatting the quality and maintaining the levels of defensive concentration will be crucial in shutting down an attack who put fellow Championship side Forest to the sword in the last round.
City are one of the Championship’s top scorers with 40 goals and this type of free scoring is needed to be in full swing if the home side are to pose any threat to Chelsea. Whilst City will be eager to come out of the blocks flying, the danger against any quality oppositon is conceding early on in the match – it tears up any initial gameplan and by committing more men forward, it can create a defensive vulnerability for the rest of the game. City have applied a low block for many games this season with the pace they possess on the counter-attack, especially away from home. However, the defensive organisation in this setup and opportunism in attack will be the City’s route to goal. A piece of inspiration will be needed I’m sure, but who will provide it? 20,000 City fans will be hoping it’s them who enjoy one of the greatest cup upsets in the clubs history.