Three best ways Chelsea can line up against Man City with Cole Palmer’s new role and a Thiago Silva question
Mauricio Pochettino’s run of big tests at Chelsea continues and it could hardly get any more tough. In Manchester City he is coming up against a side that has been banging in goals this season and seemingly now getting close to peak flow.
After losing to Arsenal before the last international break, a game that rounded off three defeats in four games, City have now won five in a row, scoring 17 and conceding just three. Pep Guardiola’s men are back at the summit and will be aiming to stay there for the rest of the campaign whilst Chelsea could fall to 13th by the end of the weekend.
If there is to be a shred of hope it’s that Pochettino’s meeting with the Citizens at Tottenham in 2019 was also the source of one of his greatest-ever achievements as manager. Although Spurs lost 4-3 at the Etihad Stadium in the second leg it was a result that saw them progress to the Champions League semi-finals against pretty much all odds.
On a dramatic night, one that Raheem Sterling won’t remember fondly, Pochettino progressed through on away goals. Since then, however, he has lost four of the past six meetings. City are also the side that he has faced most as manager and that comes off the back of Chelsea being comfortably beaten in all four meetings last term.
The Blues are certain underdogs, and for good reason, but do come in off the back of one of their best results, if not performances, in recent years. They have also excelled in big matches this season and are unbeaten in games against Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Brighton.
That doesn’t quite prepare them for the challenge ahead but it is a reason to at least believe, something that was missing from their games against the same opponents last year. Here, football.london takes a look at the dilemmas Pochettino has and how he might line-up.
Don’t change a winning formula, don’t fix what ain’t broke, or something like that. With what is currently available to him this is probably the strongest side at the moment and has the least unknowns. Reece James must surely start at right-back after playing against Tottenham and coming off for 15 minutes, the rest slots in around him.
Axel Disasi and Thiago Sliva have formed a good relationship at the back and even if Levi Colwill let the occasion get to him in north London he is a much more reliable operator than Marc Cucurella on the left. Enzo Fernandez wasn’t at his best at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but did take a blow to the ankle 30 minutes in, he will be needed for his work on the ball more than ever against unrelenting opposition.
Raheem Sterling has a point to prove against old friends and Cole Palmer likewise. The 21-year-old has changed the entire complexion of Chelsea’s team and won’t be going anywhere. Nicolas Jackson scored a hat-trick against Spurs but struggled with most of the basics. On Sunday he will need to do all of the basics to elite levels to even get a kick.
Possible XI: Sanchez; James, Disasi, Silva, Colwill; Gallagher, Fernandez, Caicedo; Palmer, Jackson, Sterling
The Arsenal killer
For 75 minutes at Stamford Bridge last month, Chelsea had Arsenal in total lockdown, catching them on the counter and reducing the threat to long shots from distance. With Palmer and Conor Gallagher acting as pressing forwards in a 4-2-2-2/4-4-2 shape it was the best defensive display seen this season.
Against City Chelsea would be brave to press too high, especially with the speed of their backline, but in keeping formation and following the ominous City triangles and rotations across the pitch it will take quite the effort. This would see Jackson miss out, something that seems harsh given his confidence will be at an all-time high.
Mykhailo Mudryk would also have to come in and that poses its own risk from the start. He is maybe the most dangerous Chelsea player at any given moment but also the most vulnerable. Against City it is impossible to want to handicap yourself at the possible chance of him running really quickly behind Nathan Ake.
There is sense to this approach, especially as it was Mudryk that did his defensive work so well against Arsenal and Bukayo Saka, but this is question of the like that Pochettino, even after beating Tottenham, is not yet ready to face the outcome of if it goes wrong.
Possible XI: Sanchez; James, Disasi, Silva, Colwill; Gallagher, Fernandez, Caicedo; Palmer, Sterling, Mudryk
Shuffle the pack
History dictates and logic screams that this is not the approach that we will see, but it is worth discussing anyway. Chelsea’s only real selection decision, because the Mudryk one just doesn’t seem likely, is in defence and more specifically at full-back.
Sure, Jackson could miss out but if he was going to then it would have happened against Tottenham after the Arsenal example and it really makes no sense to do so after the rewards he did at least eventually offer as a centre forward. Into the back four though and even if the Cucurella discussion is over it could be said that Benoit Badiashile is a better option in the middle.
The thing working against him is that with only 65 minutes of football against Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers, he is hardly match fit to take on The Erling Haaland. Badiashile in full flow is a different story. His aerial ability is perhaps the best in the team and he has speed unmatched by any other (fit) centre-back as well.
James could be a doubt just due to the demands on his body but even 45 minutes of the club captain is better than nothing and Malo Gusto, despite a good start to life at SW6, didn’t cover himself in glory in the cameo on Monday. A watertight set-up will be needed and Pochettino certainly has options, that’s for sure, just not very likely.
Possible XI: Sanchez; Gusto, Silva, Badiashile Colwill; Gallagher, Fernandez, Caicedo; Palmer, Jackson, Mudryk