Tuchel vs Guardiola: Who will hold their nerve in a game of FA Cup Russian roulette? – tactical preview
Chelsea and Manchester City, who have both just reached the semi-final stage of the UEFA Champions League are about to meet in the FA Cup semi-final, with one of them moving on to face the winner of Leicester City vs Southampton.
Manchester City can still theoretically win the quadruple, and while the Champions League has been something of an obsession at City, they will definitely try to win all four competitions and they do have the squad depth to rotate effectively over the last stretch of the season. Other than the FA Cup and Champions League semi-finals, they also have the final of the Carabao Cup to look ahead to, against Tottenham.
Chelsea’s future, while looking much better than it was a few months ago under Frank Lampard, is still uncertain. While they have also made it to the Champions League semi-final, where they will face Real Madrid, they are currently in 5th place in the Premier League, and so winning the FA Cup could be crucial to terming this a successful season if they lose out on a top four spot, or fail to make the Champions League final in Istanbul. Thus, this match will be quite significant for both teams for different reasons, with both sides wanting to return to Wembley at the end of the season for the final.
This preview in the form of a tactical analysis examines how both teams could expose each other and reach the final of the 140th FA Cup.
Thomas Tuchel has relied on different set-ups so far in this competition which might continue to be his strategy, keeping in mind the team’s progress to the Champions League semi-finals. He will probably need to rotate a little, given the number of matches coming up, but at the same time, facing a side like City means that he cannot afford to rest too many of his key players.
The German is likely to stick with his preferred setup of using a three-man defence with wing-backs, although we believe that a 4-2-3-1/4-3-2-1 might be the most suitable against Manchester City who have a well-structured defence with quality individuals. This would give the team better coverage and allow them to move between City’s lines even while using a low block.
On the other side, Pep Guardiola will set up in his favoured 4-3-3 formation, relying on exposing the opposition with pace and the active contribution of the full-backs in the attack. The Citizens can adjust well to any changes that the opposition make, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the centre-back pair contribute to their attacking actions as well if they meet a lot of resistance from Chelsea.
City’s high press and recoveries in the final third
It is very likely that Chelsea will give up the initiative and allow City to have possession which has its pros and cons, as any number of teams and managers will tell you. In particular, Chelsea are likely to struggle against City’s high press. Guardiola’s side will try to push the opposition into their own half and rely on high pressure to recover the ball in advanced areas of the pitch.
They usually rely on a high number of recoveries in the opposition half, trying to catch their opponents off guard and then exploit the gaps in defence that are created as a result. The City midfielders are very active in the team’s ball recovery actions, which allows the attackers to move around and pick up goalscoring positions. If Guardiola picks Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden, Chelsea will need to be very careful in their central areas since they both often cut inside and provide a direct threat. The Blues seem the most vulnerably centrally, where many of their lost duels have resulted in shots being conceded.
Due to this high press, Chelsea will need to be very careful with the movement of their wing-backs. They play key roles in Chelsea’s ball progression but often lose the ball on the flanks which could result in losing possession early on and leaving the wide areas open for City to take advantage of.
Chelsea counter-attacks, and their hidden weapon
The Blues could use City’s press as an advantage though. As we saw in the first leg against Porto, Chelsea smartly invited the play in their own half and waited for the right opportunities to counter-attack. The team could give away possession and try to expose the Citizens in transition. They have many fast players who could execute this strategy well.
While they need to be extra careful when being pinned at the back and inviting the opposition into their own half, they will have to concentrate on recovering and intercepting the ball where possible. Due to City’s overcommitment to attack this could be a successful strategy in this match. As we saw in their defeat by Leeds United, while City are very threatening and produce a high number of chances, they could easily be exposed should they overload the advanced areas and leave any chances for counter-attacks or long balls.
Meanwhile, if Chelsea want to take advantage of their frequent crossing, and focus on exposing the opposition through the flanks, they will need someone experienced who is positionally aware to find gaps in the box between the City defenders. Olivier Giroud could be perfect in this regard, thanks to his spatial awareness, late runs and aerial presence. Other than City’s central defensive pairing, Giroud has a huge height advantage over the rest of their potential starting XI, which could come into play if he can isolate himself against the full-backs in the box, for example, or at set-pieces.
Another way that both teams could expose each other is through their set-plays. Both Chelsea and City perform very well in their attacking set-pieces, often converting them into goals. They need to increase their awareness in and around the box in order to avoid individual mistakes. Executing their marking strategies well would be crucial since not only they do have strong set-piece takers but their positioning and passing abilities allow them to create opportunities from second balls. Both teams have scored 11 goals from set-pieces in the league so far this term, showing their strength in this area.
Both coaches have tricks up their sleeves and it will definitely be a game of nerves and some interesting tactics. This FA Cup semi-final could very well be a cagey affair between two well-coached sides, and it may take a moment of brilliance or an individual error to decide this tie.