Chelsea v Manchester City: Guardiola tasked with finding a way to unlock Tuchel's tactics

Blues manager has got the better of his rival in recent meetings as the two Premier League giants prepare to clash on Sunday

Thomas Tuchel has shot up the table and now only Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho are ahead of him. The criteria are wins against Pep Guardiola and if Tuchel’s total of four is impressive enough, the flurry of them was unprecedented.

Chelsea recorded three victories in as many competitions in six weeks. A treble of sorts ended Manchester City’s hopes of a quadruple, cost them two trophies and delayed their coronation as champions in a third. They secured the Premier League a few days later, but Tuchel’s most meaningful triumph came in the Champions League final. No one else has ever beaten Guardiola on such a stage or has defeated him three times in such swift succession.

All of which provides an intriguing backdrop to Saturday's resumption of rivalries. Guardiola may resent suggestions Tuchel has got his number but a fourth success would take Chelsea six points ahead of City in the embryonic Premier League title race; perhaps it would see them anointed favourites.

If Guardiola can find a way of unlocking Tuchel’s tactics, of finding flaws in his 3-4-3 formation, then perhaps Chelsea would not look as ominously unstoppable.

City’s last trip to Stamford Bridge brought arguably their finest performance last season; Kevin de Bruyne, the player Chelsea discarded, was sensationally good as Guardiola’s side surged into a 3-0 lead in 35 minutes. Yet his victims were Frank Lampard’s Chelsea and the Englishman was sacked later that month.

Tuchel’s reign has been defined by both brilliance and resilience against the best. Chelsea have had 21 games either in the Champions League, the Super Cup or against England’s Big Six and Leicester. They have lost just three; only one of those defeats, to Leicester in the FA Cup final, came at a cost. They have conceded a mere eight goals in 21 matches and never more than one in a game. Even when Nuno Espirito Santo surprised Tuchel with his high-pressing tactics last week, Chelsea resisted, regrouped, rallied and won 3-0.

The chances are that Guardiola, with his inventive, inquiring mind, has been thinking of ways of piercing Chelsea’s iron defence. City’s one goal in three matches came from Raheem Sterling – had Sergio Aguero’s misguided attempt at a Panenka penalty gone in then Chelsea would have conceded twice in April’s Premier League clash – and perhaps prompted his surprise selection for the Champions League final. That was widely deemed to have backfired, not least because, in the resulting reshuffle, the top scorer Ilkay Gundogan played as City’s holding midfielder.

If City struggled to contain Chelsea’s raiding wing-backs Reece James and Marcos Alonso in their Premier League defeat, they were caught on the counter-attack in the Champions League final, that lack of a natural defensive midfielder perhaps exploited when Mason Mount released Kai Havertz to score the decider.

Chelsea have furnished themselves with an extra threat since then, in Romelu Lukaku. It creates a comparison between contrasting approaches. As Guardiola reflected last week: “We don’t have a guy capable of scoring 20-25 goals.”

Chelsea do, and the responsibility for stopping him may fall to one of their alumni. If neither John Stones nor Aymeric Laporte recovers from injury, Nathan Ake could face his old club; like De Bruyne, he only got two league starts in his time at Stamford Bridge. That City have suffered a spate of injuries, with Oleksandr Zinchenko, Rodri and Gundogan all sidelined of late, means Tuchel may have more options as he looks to extend his winning streak.

Because of the Champions League final, it might seem a quest for revenge. For Guardiola, it may be more of a battle of ideas but it will hurt a footballing intellectual if he feels Tuchel is outwitting him.

Updated: September 24th 2021, 3:59 AM
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