Bat­tle of the mas­ter tac­ti­cians

Will Conte’s Chelsea or Guardi­ola’s City tri­umph on Satur­day

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When Pep Guardi­ola ar­rived in Manch­ester and won his open­ing six league games there was al­ready talk of the ti­tle be­ing City’s to lose.

At the same time Chelsea had been brushed aside by a ram­pant Arse­nal and after three games with­out a vic­tory there were some ques­tion­ing the tac­tics of An­to­nio Conte.

Fast for­ward just over two months and it is Conte re­ceiv­ing the plau­dits after Chelsea won seven straight league games and con­ceded just one goal.

They now stand proudly atop the Premier League ta­ble while City suf­fered a first de­feat to Tot­ten­ham and were held to frus­trat­ing draws with Ever­ton, Southamp­ton and Mid­dles­brough. Now the two teams will meet on Satur­day at the Eti­had Sta­dium [kick-off 4.30pm UAE time] where much of the fo­cus will be on the re­spec­tive man­agers.

Conte has worked his magic on Chelsea de­spite miss­ing out on his sum­mer tar­gets. Diego Costa, Eden Haz­ard and Pe­dro have been re­ju­ve­nated by his ar­rival, while Vic­tor Moses has been a sen­sa­tion hav­ing been handed a role as a wing-back.

Even David Luiz, fa­mously lam­basted for his de­fend­ing by crit­ics, has been en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance un­der Conte as part of a back three.

Cer­tainly it seems as though the Chelsea play­ers have bought into the tac­tics of their Ital­ian boss. Much in the same way Italy did in last sum­mer’s Eu­ros when they sur­prised many by reach­ing the quar­ter-fi­nals.

But Conte is not just tac­ti­cally as­tute; he is also a bril­liant mo­ti­va­tor and is able to gain the trust of his play­ers.

Goal­keeper Thibaut Cour­tois praised the “de­fen­sive se­cu­rity” found in the new sys­tem, while Eden Haz­ard claimed the “strik­ers have more free­dom” - a com­bi­na­tion that has led to 19 goals be­ing scored and just one con­ceded in the league. How­ever, this de­fen­sive so­lid­ity and at­tack­ing flair will be se­verely tested by Manch­ester City.

Few teams have trav­elled to the Eti­had and at­tacked. In­stead the pos­i­tive re­sults have come from dis­ci­plined de­fen­sive dis­plays.

Such is the form of Chelsea though they will want to take the game to City. A fact that could play into Guardi­ola’s hands.

Barcelona tried it and they were dis­patched 3-1 as City played with a level of self-be­lief rarely wit­nessed on the big oc­ca­sions.

Guardi­ola has also man­aged to tame the com­bustible Yaya Toure in what could prove a key time as City wel­come the league lead­ers.

City’s strength cer­tainly lies in at­tack and their se­rial-win­ning boss will be all too aware that it is in de­fence that there are frail­ties.

There­fore City will look to take the game to Chelsea in what should make for a thrilling en­counter. But will it be Guardi­ola or Conte re­ceiv­ing the plau­dits after the game?

19 Goals scored by Chelsea and just one con­ceded in seven games

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