Battle of the master tacticians
Will Conte’s Chelsea or Guardiola’s City triumph on Saturday
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