English Premiership

City chase down Chelsea dynasty

2018-03-04 10:45
Pep Guardiola (Getty Images)

Johannesburg - Manchester City are on course to break records that Chelsea hold dear from the dynasty created by Jose Mourinho.

As City close in on 103 goals this season, their goal difference of 62 is just nine behind the 71 set by the Blues in 2009/10.

The 30 victories of Antonio Conte’s 2016/17 winning side are also in sight as Pep Guardiola’s men have already managed 24 wins this term. The 95 points tally of 2004/05 appears in jeopardy as City sit on 75, with 30 points left to play for.

A win at Etihad Stadium on Sunday for the runaway league leaders would make it 14 wins at home, just four adrift of Chelsea’s class of 2005/06. The venue is a fortress, with only Everton having escaped with a point this season.

All the signs are evident that City’s relentless march to the title continues. New standards are being set by the masters of “juego de posicion” - Guardiola’s complex system of dominating through total possession football.

However, while evidence that the hosts are scoring their way into history books is compelling, Conte is a tactical maestro.

Were it not for an inexplicable square ball across his own penalty area straight to Andres Iniesta by Andreas Christensen on February 20 in the UEFA Champions League, Lionel Messi would not have scored an undeserved equaliser for Barcelona.

In that round-of-16 tie, Barca didn’t manage a shot on target until Messi’s strike went in. It was the highly mobile front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Alvaro Morata that did the damage with their pace on the break.

Yet, it was the work of wingbacks Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso who forced Jordi Alba and Paulinho out of the game, stifling the service into Luis Suárez and a quiet Messi.

Despite having 27% of the ball against Blaugrana, Chelsea hit the post twice and enjoyed far better chances. While the Spanish giants are a different animal under manager Ernesto Valverde, possession is everything - just as it is to Guardiola and City. Here lie the reasons the Blues could have hope, with the clues from that game as to how to outfox the home side.

Just as Barca’s fullbacks bomb on and play almost as dedicated wingers, so do the likes of Danilo and Kyle Walker. With Moses and Alonso likely to keep them pinned back, the possession around the final third could be stifled.

With N’Golo Kante forever the terrier snapping at heels and intercepting balls in the middle of the park, Cesc Fàbregas’ distribution could come to the fore on the break.

City are unafraid to commit up to eight bodies ahead of the ball in attack, but at times Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany are left alone when the counter-attacks come.

It suggests that the system that worked so well in keeping Barcelona quiet could well be on display again at Etihad. With Conte’s men in fifth place and in danger of finishing out of the Champions League places, motivation will be high to bring down the masters from Manchester.

Arsenal take on Brighton, with the Gunners’ season in danger of imploding after heavy back-to-back defeats to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup and the league.

With hopes of a top-four spot all but gone, restoring confidence levels against an in-form Brighton & Hove Albion could be key and provide some much-needed respite for under-fire manager Arsène Wenger.

Brighton are currently 12th on the table and Chris Hughton’s men have won four out of five matches at Amex Stadium. The Seagulls may fancy their chances against a deflated Gunners outfit in today’s early kick-off.

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Fixtures
Saturday, 29 September 2018
West Ham United v Manchester United, London Stadium 13:30
Arsenal v Watford, Emirates Stadium 16:00
Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion, Etihad Stadium 16:00
Everton v Fulham, Goodison Park 16:00
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Southampton, Molineux Stadium 16:00
Newcastle United v Leicester City, St. James' Park 16:00
Huddersfield Town v Tottenham Hotspur, The John Smith's Stadium 16:00
Chelsea v Liverpool, Stamford Bridge 18:30
Sunday, 30 September 2018
Cardiff City v Burnley, Cardiff City Stadium 17:00
Monday, 01 October 2018
AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace, Vitality Stadium 21:00
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