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The high line of the city

Historically the problem for Pep Guardiola sides in Europe is the high line he runs, so if the press goes wrong, their team could be vulnerable to balls from the back – as Bayern played against Real Madrid and for City against Barcelona in 2014 and Monaco against Monaco. 2015, Liverpool 2018 and Lyon last year. It was a problem for City locally last season – especially in the title-winning Chelsea loss to Norwich, Wolves, Manchester United and Liverpool – and even earlier in this campaign, Tottenham against Leicester 5-2 at home and vice versa. Guardiola's big success in December was to adjust the balance of the press to tackle a potential vulnerability that was inevitable with his approach, but that's how he brought United City out and, most importantly, made Chelsea in Timo's FA Cup semi-finals. Werner's escapades were a permanent source of threat. Werner was also a threat in Chelsea's league win over City, but the lessons of this match were probably less relevant as it was a heavily weakened City pick.

Chelsea's opponents are blocked

Given the space behind City's defensive line at all times, how can they minimize the danger posed by the balls played behind them? It's all about positioning. First of all, the team needs to be compact from the back to the front, which means it is easier to protect the ball, especially the City is playing at a slightly slower pace this season because the distances between the players are less and therefore the crossings between them are less risky - the game effectively trying to turn it into something close to a rondo, pre-match exercises where players in a circle try to keep the ball away from the other two players in the middle.

A compact shape also means that when possession is lost, there are usually two or maybe more players in a position to close the opponent who has the new ball. But the point where City really thrives this season is to make sure that, whenever possible, there is always one more defender from the opponent's strikers ready to take the lead - in practice usually two v one or three v two. City almost always has five men behind the ball, something that sets them apart from the German school's more gung-ho pressing style, leaving them with three or two players in the next group on the field, or they're positioned to jump.

The fake nine of the city

Since the late hours fake nines

century but the modern popularization of the role can possibly be attributed to Guardiola (even though Luciano Spalletti's use of Francesco Totti in Rome and Alex Ferguson's use of Cristiano Ronaldo was before Lionel Messi deployed). It's noteworthy how in just over a decade the position that once looked so radical has normalized to the point where there are now a lot of false nine variants. What is striking now in Barcelona, 2014 shows how many natural scorers they had with the front three of Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi in the retreating central role. This City plays effectively without a striker, with the exception of Riyad Mahrez, City's top scorer, who is on the right. Phil Foden will be dragged from the left, but will the fake nine be Bernardo Silva or Kevin De Bruyne, fellow deep and City's leading striker Ilkay Gundogan is leaving the midfield. N'Golo Kanté successfully subdued De Bruyne in that Cup semi-final; Trying to save the Belgian could be key to Guardiola's order.

kevin de bruyne is stifled by n'golo kanté in the fa cup semi-final. can manchester city find a way to liberate the belgian?
Kevin De Bruyne, FA Cup semi-final. Can Manchester City find a way to liberate the Belgian? Photo: Matt McNulty / Manchester City FC / Getty Images

Chelsea's form of defense

Chelsea's back trio's advantage over a forward line as City's is that it offers more natural flexibility than a back four. Assuming Mason Mount was used as one of the two creative midfielders with Mateo Kovacic or Jorginho with Kanté in front of the back trio, there is a basic trapezoid base that can be adjusted to accommodate everything City does. The problem appears to be on the left of Chelsea, where Riyad Mahrez instantly put pressure on Ben Chilwell, assuming the high starting position was preferred over Marcos Alonso. This will at least raise suspicion in Chilwell's mind, and could make him less effective at participating in the attack than in recent weeks, which could lessen the threat Chelsea can offer.

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Azpilicueta and / or James

In Chelsea's last three matches, Reece James was used to the right of the back three with César. Azpilicueta is on the right wing. Apparently this was meant to match James with Jamie Vardy's pace in two matches against Leicester, and it was surprising that Thomas Tuchel held it against Aston Villa on Sunday. Andreas Christensen is likely to arrive as a right-wing center back, but Azpilicueta is much more likely to return to midfield where James was wing-back. While Azpilicueta does not present anything like James' attack threat, City's distracting Chelsea from the center is not by pace - and James will be vital in offering forward breadth, especially if on the opposite flank Chilwell is occupied by trying to negate it.

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