This Saturday, Chelsea head to the North West for arguably their toughest test so far. Games of the past have plagued the Blues’ at the Etihad with two losses in a row under two different managers; with both being incredibly dark days for different reasons. However, under Frank Lampard, Chelsea have a team that will be able to put together a performance that will be heavily contrasting to the last two we have witnessed. Perhaps a performance that can rival the feeling of the 3-1 win in the 2016/17 season. Either way, the feeling of optimism is back among the fans.
2018 – Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea
Under Antonio Conte, we saw a fantastic 3-1 away win in his debut season which began the title charge. The feeling of that day has been hard to match since then, but after the dream first season in charge it all went pear-shaped for the Italian. In one of the most embarrassing displays I’ve ever seen by a top team, Conte forced Hazard to play as a striker whilst the rest of the team were seemingly told to park the bus. There’s one thing to be compact and defensive which is fine but to literally put ten behind the ball and almost play anti-football, that was too far for many Chelsea fans.
The game finished 1-0 to Manchester City and Chelsea only had 29% possession. Going forward, they could only muster three shots with none of them finding their way on target. An extra cautious approach perhaps saved them from losing by a large margin, but the manner of play was possibly the worst experience I’ve had as a Chelsea fan.
2019 – Manchester City 6-0 Chelsea
This was a dark day for the Blues’. Our biggest defeat for 29 years and certainly one of the most embarrassing. Maurizio Sarri’s tenure at Chelsea split opinion, with his stubbornness and style of play causing him issues with players and the fans. However, the devasting 6-0 loss to Manchester City hurt all Chelsea fans everywhere. Against a formidable attacking opposition, Chelsea simply buckled under the pressure, in a game where everything went wrong.
The natural alternative to defensive play is offensive play, which was more the flavor under Sarri’s campaign. However, that game ended in a shambolic 6-0 loss, with Pep’s blues suffocating Jorginho’s impact and leaving Chelsea to play without any method. Although some goals were conceded through individual mistakes, it was clear that Chelsea were practically immobile in attack. They lacked creation, awareness and pace. Sarri’s predictable substitutions did not help either, as Pep remained consistent to his plan throughout and secured a big win. Of the times Chelsea did get forward, they depended entirely on Eden Hazard’s individual brilliance to attack.
Being 4-0 down in 25 minutes showed City’s killer instinct. The Blues’ very much looked like a rabbit in the headlights as City ran riot. A day that left Chelsea fans worrying about top four, future of players and the overall state of the club. If you turn up at the likes of Manchester City with that attitude and set up, then it’s going to be a very long day for you. A day to forget.
The feeling going into this game is that we are not going to see a repeat of either of those two away performances. Lampard is not going to set the team up in the Conte style and conceding six is not going to happen. By far, this is the best we’ve looked coming into an away game with City since we won there in 2016.
Chelsea’s away performances have arguably been better than the home performances, as Frank’s young boys have grown into the top level both domestically and in Europe. Facing both Liverpool and Ajax twice have provided the toughest tests. However, this game serves as a chance to gauge where this Chelsea team is really at.
We must consider the threat that City bring; for me, they still are the best attacking force in the world. Coming up against the movement of Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and the precision of Kevin De Bryune is a test like no other. Where Liverpool posed a huge threat with their front three and their pace, this offers an equally if not tougher attacking threat. It could well be a shock to the system.
There is, however, reason to believe in Chelsea coming away with something from this game due to a combination of Chelsea’s prowess going forward as well as City’s defensive issues. With Aymeric Laporte out long term, their defence has been something to target and fully expect the precision passing of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic to get our advanced players in very good positions on the day. Add to the fact Tammy Abraham will be stretching that City back line with runs in behind all day.
Chelsea will no longer have the Belgian maestro in Eden Hazard to squeeze in a few attempts this season, but will instead have fresh faces in Reece James, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Hudson Odoi to trouble City’s backline. Lessons Lampard could take from the devestating 6-0 loss would be to not depend on Jorginho entirely, instead utilize players like Kovacic and Kante in his midfield to orchestrate attacks. Another weapon he may wish to use is the blistering pace of Mason Mount. Mount has done incredibly well in applying pressure to opposition and this skill could be very useful if the wingers / fullbacks are alert for loose balls they can play forward.
A sense of optimism surrounds the Chelsea fans right now, and rightly so. Lampard’s young, innovative attacking style has brought the feel good factor back to Stamford Bridge. This game is essentially a free hit for the Blues, if they lose then it’s part of the development and will benefit them going forward. If they win however, then this Chelsea team will have really laid down a marker to the rest of the league.