MARTIN KEOWN: Beat Man City and Thomas Tuchel will feel unstoppable… this is a must-win for the champions with Chelsea unbeaten after an away game against Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal
- Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea welcome Manchester City to the Premier League on Saturday
- Victory for the Blues would cement their place at the top of the early standings
- Champions City will have the chance to reaffirm their credentials as title favourites
- Chelsea are unbeaten and have faced Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal on the road
Manchester City were on the brink of immortality last season, on their way to win an unprecedented Quadruple, until they came across the newly improved Chelsea side of Thomas Tuchel. Three games against Chelsea ultimately determined City’s season.
That trilogy of defeats began in the FA Cup semi-final after Pep Guardiola made eight changes to his starting line-up, and was followed by a Premier League loss after Guardiola made a further nine changes.
Those two games saw a huge transformation for the Chelsea players, who then had the confidence to beat a strong City in the Champions League final in May.
Well-known rivals Thomas Tuchel (L) and Pep Guardiola meet on Saturday in the Premier League
Tuchel is on a formidable run with Champions League winners and early table toppers Chelsea
But Saturday is an opportunity for City to restore the balance of power and shift it back in their favor by returning to last season’s form, when they won 21 consecutive games between November and March. Even at this early stage, I see this as a game to win for City.
Top-of-the-table Chelsea are unbeaten this season (W4, D1), with Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham gone.
Tuchel is a coach who is completely in touch with his team’s performance. At Tottenham last week there was an unusual lack of desire and control in the first half, so he broke the whip and replaced Mason Mount with N’Golo Kante at halftime.
In the second half it was all Chelsea, thanks to a mood swing created by their manager. After today, Chelsea have a series of inviting games. Beat City and they will feel unstoppable with their upcoming matches.
Let’s not forget what’s at stake. Chelsea took away the Champions League from City just 119 days ago and now they are also coming to take their Premier League title.
Chelsea took the Champions League from City and now they are coming to take their title
Heading into last May’s Champions League final, one or both of Fernandinho and Rodri had started 59 of Manchester City’s 60 previous games.
Then Pep Guardiola surprised everyone by choosing Ilkay Gundogan as his incumbent midfield. That meant Gundogan, City’s top scorer, was the farthest midfielder from goal. Selecting the right nanny is vital. It is imperative for that player to stop all service at Romelu Lukaku’s feet today.
It’s as if the prodigal son has returned with Lukaku. He’s back to show why Chelsea should never have let him leave in the first place and he’s proving people wrong every week. He now holds the ball up brilliantly and seems to score when he shoots.
City must get bodies around them and block the supply line from Chelsea’s midfield. Rodri is probably the best player to keep balls from getting into Lukaku, ahead of a likely centre-back from Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake.
The German had the better of Guardiola when the sides clashed in the Champions League final
It is also important that Guardiola’s full backs do not expose City to counterattacks. Last week Nathan Redmond of Southampton drifted into the space Kyle Walker had left behind. If one of City’s full defenders flies forward, the other must be left behind, bearing in mind Chelsea’s quick threat. City can’t leave the back door open.
Remarkably, City have only allowed six shots on target this season. They did it by getting a lot of bodies around the ball.
When they don’t have possession of the ball, Guardiola’s players are relentless. They swallow the opponent to win the ball back and then start their passing cycle again and again.
City had the most possession in the Premier League this season, with an average of 67.5 percent. However, they have not scored in two of their five games, which is the same number as in their previous 30.
Guardiola must ensure his full-backs are aware of their essential defensive duties
Scoring against Chelsea is one of football’s greatest challenges. The Blues under Thomas Tuchel have cleared 15 times, more than any other team since the German took the lead. And they haven’t admitted to open play in the Premier League this season.
Tuchel’s side defends with a block of seven: a back three, a midfield two and fullbacks falling to create a defensive wall as effective as the Thames Barrier!
What Tuchel (left) has achieved in such a short time is nothing short of astonishing. City must reaffirm their position as last season’s champions and make themselves the favorites of this campaign with a win today.