In what’s probably the most expensive duel that England, if not a large portion of Europe has to offer in modern football, Chelsea and Manchester City will face off at Wembley this weekend in a bid to book their FA Cup final spot.
So far this season, it’s Manchester City that hold an advantage over their West London rivals based on Premier League outings, winning four of a possible six points from the two encounters the pair have already had.
However, as we’re all very well aware, the FA Cup has a habit of throwing a curveball or two our way, with a great deal of logic going out of the window when it comes down to the nitty-gritty.
Regardless of how unpredictable such a clash of the titans might appear, that wont stop us from making some outlandish predictions leading up to kickoff, however.
Defensive Absentees Set to Cripple Chelsea
In these gruelling latter stages of the season, competing across multiple fronts can often be seen as both a curse and a blessing at the same time.
On one hand, it’s fantastic to be able to boast advancing to the late stages of several tournaments on top of a league campaign, just as Chelsea have with the FA Cup and Europa League.
However, in the brutal climates of English football, injuries are but another acceptable occurrence in a season, many of which are affecting the Blues’ back line as we speak.
As things stand, Ashley Cole, Ryan Bertrand and Gary Cahill are all dealing with injuries (via The Daily Mail) ahead of the short trip to Wembley this weekend, struggling with hamstring, illness and a knee problem, respectively.
On top of that, David Luiz appeared to suffer a foot injury in the 2-1 win over Sunderland last weekend and was close to coming off, putting him as a fragile figure for the days leading up to this epic encounter.
As such, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Cesar Azpilcueta all stand as the only certainties Rafa Benitez has from usual starting lineup, a scary thought considering the likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko are soon to descend upon them.
With Terry sometimes a seemingly frail figure at this stage of his career anyway, it’s likely that Benitez’s woe could be compounded by the bad luck experienced of late, with his defence a particularly suspect aspect of the squad right now.
Blues Bounce Back to Scoring Ways at the Bridge
In November 2012, these two sides saw out a goalless draw in a league fixture for the first time since 2005. Three months later, Chelsea made their way to the Etihad Stadium where they were beaten 2-0 and again struggled to unlock City’s defence.
Having scored in their last seven consecutive games, Rafa Benitez’s side will have more luck against the reigning Premier League champions this time around after enjoying five wins in their last six matches across all competitions.
So far this season, the Blues have struggled to determine their main attacking focus and instead have seen Benitez deploy a squad rotation system between Demba Ba and Fernando Torres.
Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar’s midfield opus has thus become the club’s main source of goals, sometimes operating without a “striker” per se.
In the 2-0 loss at Manchester City, Oscar was forced to settle for a spot on the bench and instead saw Ramires take his place higher up the pitch.
Since then, the young Brazilian has excelled under his increasing responsibilities and will undoubtedly be considered as a started at Wembley.
The likes of Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Pablo Zabaleta are likely to pose their usually stern opposition but with the threat of losing their FA Cup title on the line, Chelsea’s stars will kick back into their attacking gears against the Sky Blues this weekend.
Roberto Mancini Wins Tactical Tug-of-War
An increasingly publicised aspect revolving around fixtures of this magnitude is the battle of the two managers, both of whom look to outdo their counterpart with their own injection of strategic nous.
With one of the most fearsome squads in world football, Chelsea could become a major force once more on a global spectrum with the right tactics; unfortunately for him, it doesn’t look like Rafa Benitez can provide that.
On the other hand, Roberto Mancini has successfully transferred his considerable knowledge from his Serie A days with Internazionale to the Premier League, combining a substantially financed group of players with the much needed know-how to make a team.
According to the Independent, David Silva will be the only notable absence for Mancini this Sunday, meaning the Italian has gotten off to a better star than Chelsea before the match has even begun, albeit however lucky.
In Vincent Kompany, City have a leading centre-back capable of dealing with just about any striker in the world, likely on this occasion to be either Fernando Torres or Demba Ba, who’s struggling with injury but expected to be fit according to The Daily Mail.
Looking out wide, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy have contributed significantly to the City cause this season, helping to earn their club the bragging rights of best defence in the English top flight.
Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar undoubtedly pose the biggest threat to Joe Hart’s goal but the Citizens' full-backs are among the best in Europe right now and have the capacity to neutralise such threats, as they have done twice already this season.
Alternating between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations this campaign, Mancini is likely to opt for the latter against the Blues in the hopes of countering Benitez’s greatest assets, their creative midfielders.
It will then be up to the likes of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and James Milner to win the more physical of the midfield battles, just as they did against Manchester United earlier in the week and will do once more at Wembley.