MARTIN KEOWN: Beat Man City and Thomas Tuchel will feel unstoppable… this is a must-win for the champions with Chelsea unbeaten after facing Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal away
- Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea welcome Man City in the Premier League on Saturday
- Victory for the Blues would cement their place at the top of the early standings
- Champions City have the chance to reaffirm their credentials as title favourites
- Chelsea are unbeaten having faced Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal on the road
Manchester City were on the verge of immortality last season, on course to win an unprecedented Quadruple, until they ran into Thomas Tuchel’s new, improved Chelsea side. Three games against Chelsea ultimately defined City’s season.
That trilogy of defeats started in the FA Cup semi-finals after Pep Guardiola had made eight changes to his starting line-up, and was followed by a loss in the Premier League after Guardiola made a further nine changes.
Those two matches sparked a huge transformation in the Chelsea players, who then had the confidence to beat a full-strength City in May’s Champions League final.
Familiar rivals Thomas Tuchel (L) and Pep Guardiola meet in the Premier League on Saturday
Tuchel is on a formidable run with Champions League winners and early table toppers Chelsea
But Saturday is an opportunity for City to redress the balance of power and shift it back in their favour by returning to the form of last season, when they won 21 matches in succession between November and March. Even at this early stage, I consider this a must-win game for City.
Top-of-the-table Chelsea are unbeaten this season (W4, D1), having faced Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham away.
Tuchel is a coach totally in touch with his team’s performances. At Tottenham last week, there was an uncharacteristic lack of desire and control in the first half, so he cracked the whip and replaced Mason Mount with N’Golo Kante at half-time.
In the second half, it was all Chelsea, thanks to a change in mood which was created by their manager. After today, Chelsea have a run of inviting games. Beat City and they’ll be feeling unstoppable with their upcoming fixtures.
Let’s not forget what is at stake. Chelsea took away the Champions League from City just 119 days ago and now they’re coming to take their Premier League title, too.
Chelsea took away the Champions League from City and now they’re coming to take their title
Heading into the Champions League final last May, one or both of Fernandinho and Rodri had started 59 of Manchester City’s 60 previous games.
Then Pep Guardiola surprised everybody by opting to use Ilkay Gundogan as his sitting midfield instead. That meant Gundogan, City’s top scorer, was the furthest midfielder from goal. Selecting the right sitter is vitally important. It’s imperative for that player to stop all the service into Romelu Lukaku’s feet today.
It’s like the prodigal son has returned with Lukaku. He is back to show why Chelsea should never have let him leave in the first place and he’s proving people wrong, each and every week. He now holds the ball up brilliantly and looks like scoring whenever he shoots.
City need to get bodies around him and block the supply line from Chelsea’s midfield. Rodri is probably the best player for stopping balls getting into Lukaku, in front of a probable centre back pairing of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake.
The German had the better of Guardiola when the sides clashed in the Champions League final
It’s also important that Guardiola’s full backs do not leave City exposed to counter-attacks. Last week, Southampton’s Nathan Redmond was drifting into the space left by Kyle Walker. If one of City’s full backs flies forward, the other should be staying back, mindful of the quick-thinking threat of Chelsea. City cannot leave the back door open.
City have remarkably allowed their opponents just six shots on target this season. They have done it by getting lots of bodies around the ball.
When out of possession, Guardiola’s players are relentless. They swallow up the opposition to win the ball back and then they restart their passing cycle all over again, time after time.
City have had the most possession in the Premier League this season, averaging 67.5 per cent. They’ve failed to score in two of their five games, however, which is as many as in their previous 30.
Guardiola will need to make sure that his full-backs are mindful of their vital defensive duties
To score against Chelsea represents one of football’s greatest challenges. The Blues have kept 15 clean sheets under Thomas Tuchel, more than any other side since the German took charge. And they haven’t yet conceded from open play in the Premier League this season.
Tuchel’s side defend with a block of seven: a back three, a midfield two and wing-backs who drop to create a defensive wall which is as effective as the Thames Barrier!
What Tuchel (left) has achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of amazing. City must reaffirm their standing as last season’s champions and make themselves this campaign’s favourites with a win today.