Cup tie: Part II, but what can we expect at the Bridge?
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While the national media will inevitably give City no chance in tonight’s Stamford Bridge replay that won’t be the mindset in the away dressing room.
In the first leg Daniel Farke set his side up to match Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation and the result was largely a case of the two sides cancelling each other out. When Norwich had decent spells of possession they were unable find much space around Chelsea’s penalty area, and vice versa.
From a neutral’s perspective it must have made for a pretty tedious watch with little goalmouth action, so I think that most of us were surprised when the replay was also chosen for TV coverage, although the extra contribution to the redevelopment of Colney will be welcome!
With City having used the same system to great effect at Ashton Gate on Saturday I see no reason to think that either manager will be looking to change tonight, so can we expect more of what we saw at Carrow Road 10 days ago?
Well, firstly, I suspect that we may well see several changes on both sides. Chelsea need another game like a hole in the head at present, so it will be a calculated risk for Antonio Conte in deciding how many of his big names to risk, although he’s hardly short of options.
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Farke, on the other hand, is fast running out of them, with injuries and departures depleting his squad, which means that he has to balance a desire to try to win tonight’s game with the need to try to ensure that whatever starting XI he puts out against Sheffield United on Saturday isn’t too heavy-legged, because much as we would all like a Cup run, with City now six points off the play-off places the league really has to take priority.
While debates about the pros and cons of different formations will always be the staple of the bar room pundit, the fact is that none of the popular systems automatically trumps another because all of them ultimately depend on three things; the ability of the players to execute them, having enough possession and moving the ball quickly enough.
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In the first game at Norwich both sides were guilty of being sloppy in possession and at times the game was a catalogue of errors, but at Ashton Gate on Saturday City looked much more comfortable on the ball, and as a result we got an exciting game with plenty of incident.
The key to breaking down any system is to utilise your possession to make use of the space that is available, and as City have learnt many times over the past couple of seasons, a well-organised 4-4-2 with two banks of four showing good discipline can be very hard to unlock.
In a 3-4-3 there is a tendency, as we saw in the first Chelsea game, for the central areas to become congested, but there should always be space in wide areas, and that was perfectly illustrated by City’s winner at Bristol.
Firstly, they worked the ball from right to left with first-time passes, pulling Bristol’s left-back Joe Bryan into the middle as their back four moved across, then reversed the direction of attack to use the space created as Mario Vrancic’s inch-perfect crossfield ball was met by an untracked Ivo Pinto, and with the Bristol defence unbalanced a quick inside pass and James Maddison’s awareness of space did the rest.
Whether City can do something similar tonight is, of course, another matter, assuming, of course, that Farke does go for the same system, and their own wing backs will need to be aware of the same diagonal ball threat coming from Chelsea’s talented midfielders.
Let’s hope for a more entertaining game than the first one, but most of all that City don’t pick up any more injuries before the squad can be strengthened.