Manchester City play Chelsea in the Champions League final, but first they will host them in a Premier League clash on Saturday evening.
This is a match loaded with significance and ramifications. Firstly, a win would see City crowned Premier League champions for the third time in four years, regaining the title they lost to Liverpool. Secondly, it is a dress rehearsal for the third all-English Champions League final.
Thirdly, it is a crucial clash for Chelsea in the battle for fourth place as they seek to secure Champions League football for next season. And finally, it is also a rematch from this year’s FA Cup semi-final, where Chelsea beat City.
So there are four reasons to watch it, and here are five predictions for Manchester City v Chelsea.
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1. Predicted Man City XI
With the Champions League final to come and a full squad to choose from, we can expect Pep Guardiola to engage in some classic squad rotation to keep faces fresh and prevent Thomas Tuchel from getting too good a look at his XI for the final.
Ederson will start in goal obviously but Guardiola will probably change three of the back four to include Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy at left-back and Joao Cancelo on the right. Ruben Dias will likely keep his place because with all due respect, Chelsea are better than Crystal Palace and Dias’ brilliance will still be needed.
In midfield, Rodri will replace Fernandinho, with key men Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne starting. Then it’ll be all-change up-front where Guardiola will be able to call on a ridiculous front three containing Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero. Ferran Torres should be on the bench with the likes of Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, ready to come on in the second-half should City need them.
2. Predicted Chelsea XI
While Thomas Tuchel would probably like to rotate as much as Guardiola, his squad is nowhere near as robust, even if it is still brilliant. Moreover, he is still reliant on certain key men and the team quality to drop significantly with mass rotation.
Edouard Mendy is still the man man in goal and Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta are non-negotiable members of the starting XI. The Spaniard and the German are absolute warriors and while the veteran Thiago Silva may be given some rest, Kurt Zouma is a more than able replacement to retain Chelsea’s incredible defensive solidity.
Further forward, Mateo Kovacic’s injury means that Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté retain their places, as do Mason Mount and Timo Werner in attack. Kai Havertz may drop out to give Hakim Ziyech a start while it should be all change at wing-back with Marcos Alonso and Reece James coming in. These changes will freshen up the Chelsea side without impacting their ability to play Tuchel’s way.
3. Sterling to miss the big chance
In games between Manchester City and potent defences, games where City struggle to score goals, there is always a big chance. The performance level of Guardiola’s side is such that they will always create at least one great chance, and if they can take it the fortunes of the side could change and they could win.
Unfortunately for City, against Chelsea that chance is going to fall to the perilously out-of-form Raheem Sterling. Sergio Aguero will be lost among the giants in the heart of their back-line, so Sterling will emerge as the best outlet to take advantage of the space the Argentine’s movement will create.
With 100 goals in 243 games for Man City before this season, you’d expect Sterling to be a lethal outlet and score. But this season something is missing; the winger has scored just 13 times in all competitions despite playing 45 games. Phil Foden has supplanted him in the first-choice XI for City; and he now lacks any of the genuine bite he used to.
Sterling has missed 12 big chances so far this season in the Premier League, which is more than any teammate by at least four and twice as many as he has scored (this sounds worse than it is, but a 33% conversion rate is still under this season’s Premier League average). He is simply not reliable right now.
4. Kanté will meet his match
Over the last couple of weeks, N’Golo Kanté has shown that there is no opponent he can’t mangle in a 1-v-1 duel. If you dally on the ball for even a second in his presence, he will hunt you down and dispossess you. Guardiola will note how his more stratified midfield in the FA Cup was rife for exploitation by Kanté (and Mason Mount) and the reconfiguration will hamper Kanté.
Obviously, the French World Cup winner is incredibly fast, but he’s not as fast as the ball can be, and so City will play as quickly as possible in the middle of the pitch. They will move the ball around first time to keep it away from the clutches of Chelsea’s midfield superman. Kanté can beat any opponent, but three of them working in concert? That might be too much even for him.
5. A table-setting stalemate
As exciting as it would be for Guardiola and Tuchel to use the relative meaninglessness of this fixture to go hell-for-leather and unleash attacks on each other, giving us an incredible goalfest, that’s unlikely to happen. There’s just too much at stake for Guardiola and Tuchel to treat the game as that low stakes.
There’s no way they will want to reveal any tactical intricacies that openly ahead of the biggest games of their careers, nor risk damaging the confidence of their players with a big defeat. Manchester City will know that they lost the last competitive match-up against the Blues so will not want another defeat against them in the lead-up to the final. But similarly, Chelsea are chasing a top-four spot and losing would be disastrous for them as they are being hunted down by West Ham and Liverpool.
The result? A stalemate. Probably 0-0, given the defensive strength of both sides (both have 18 clean sheets this season and have conceded the fewest and second-fewest goals in the Premier League) but if one side does take the lead, expect the other to play like hell until they equalise and settle for the point, setting the table quite superbly for the Champions League final in Turkey.
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