Seven.
That’s how many games Manchester City have lost across the course of this season. It’s not exactly a lot to go on if you’re trying to make it eight, which is exactly what Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel is trying to do. Tuchel gave his players Tuesday off to allow himself and his coaching staff time to plan for the final, and perhaps recover after Sunday’s shambolic performance against Aston Villa, so what will he come up with?
One of the problems facing Tuchel, and us, is that you pretty much ignore two of the seven losses off the bat. Those are the ones against Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur early in the season. Not only are City playing very differently now, with the victory at Stamford Bridge in January widely seen as a turning point, they were also clearly struggling with fatigue early on. The more recent two losses, against Chelsea and Brighton, are also not particularly instructive given in the first match City (and Chelsea to be fair) heavily rotated and in the latter the title had been secured. So that gives us four matches, and anything else we may have noticed, to look at ways to beat City, here’s what we’ve got.
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Defensive solidity

Okay so this is somewhat stating the obvious but it is absolutely the number one way still to beat a Pep Guardiola team. No side uses the ball like City, so you have to accept there will be plenty of times where you don’t have the ball, even a possession-heavy team like Chelsea. That means that you have to be strong defensively.
For Tuchel that means he has to find a way to stamp out the sloppy errors that have been creeping into his team recently. Barring the aberration against West Bromwich Albion Chelsea have been mostly perfect defensively. Yet just recently there have been some worrying signs, the goal conceded against Arsenal and the general performance against Villa spring to mind.

Aston Villa players celebrate after Burkinese midfielder Bertrand Traore scored the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on May 23, 2021.

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Does that mean Tuchel switches Reece James and Cesar Azpilicueta around? Perhaps. The captain has been playing at wing-back recently with James at centre-back but Chelsea might be more solid the other way around, even with no Andreas Christensen. Tuchel and Chelsea fans will have everything crossed in the hope that N’Golo Kante will be fit to start, especially given some of Mateo Kovacic’s lax ball retention last weekend.

Hurt them on the flanks

City don’t have many weaknesses, there are few players outside of the Etihad who walk straight into their team (hello Harry Kane) but the full-back area does seem like an area to get at them. This is despite Kyle Walker having the season of his life and Joao Cancelo going from strength to strength. Of course both like to push forward and that can leave gaps, the sort of gaps a player like Jorginho can exploit. If Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount can stay high alongside Timo Werner then they can potentially overload Rodri and the centre-backs.
This is, of course, easier said than done. Rodri, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Ruben Dias all have brilliant positional sense, as does sweeper-keeper extraordinaire Ederson. This is where the pace comes in, and why Pulisic should start over Kai Havertz or Hakim Ziyech. Even the best defenders in the world can look uncomfortable against extreme pace and Chelsea’s front three certainly boast that. This is another advantage of moving James back to wing-back.

Mason Mount of Chelsea celebrates with teammate Christian Pulisic after scoring their team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on May 05, 2021 in London, England.

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Press smarter not harder

This is a bit of a carry-on from the above point but Chelsea have to be intelligent with their pressing. The press is a useful tool against a Guardiola team as it can unsettle their rhythm. However the danger of course is that they are good enough to pass out of the press, or even through it. If Chelsea press as a team they will get obliterated on the counter.
Instead Chelsea need to press where it suits them, and that is in their final third. Try to coax a mistake out of one of the defenders of the goalkeepers but when it gets into their half that’s when they retreat and shut up shop. Let City knock the ball around in the midfield and turn their defence into a true back five, creating frustration. Coil like a spring ready for the counter.

Luke Shaw of Manchester United celebrates with teammates after scoring his teams second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium

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The absolute worst thing Chelsea can do is go chasing the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden or Riyad Mahrez. We know that with no recognised striker the forward players are going to drift across the pitch, in a manner designed to drag players out of position. That’s when the runners from midfield and the full-backs get in behind and exploit the gaps. If Chelsea stay compact, and trust their zonal marking system, they can stall City’s juggernaut.

Start fast

This is tied in to the previous two points but if Chelsea are going to go all-out they can gamble and do it in the first 15 minutes. The word gamble is important here, because they will be vulnerable, but Chelsea could take inspiration from the way City were beaten by Manchester United in the derby.

Timo Werner of Chelsea celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on May 05, 2021 in London, England.

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United caught City off guard and as we mentioned above Chelsea have the pace in their team to blitz City early. With the front three and wing-backs they can apply pressure as well as throwing Kante higher up the pitch to make Rodri’s life a misery. The only question is whether Tuchel thinks that is a gamble worth taking.

Believe

A little corny perhaps, but no-one can doubt the importance of psychology within football. Chelsea need to remember that they have beaten City twice since Tuchel took over, when he had never previously beaten Guardiola before that. The performance in the FA Cup semi-final was a really impressive one, which made their display in the final all the more disappointing. They know better than anyone that it can be done.

Thomas Tuchel und Pep Guardiola

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They also need to believe in each other. They need to have trust within themselves and their team-mates, both defensively and when in possession. Jorginho needs to trust that Pulisic will make that run in behind. Ben Chilwell will need to trust that he can pass Mahrez on to Antonio Rudiger so he can stay on his flank, and Tuchel needs to trust his methods. It will be extremely difficult, there is no match that demands more out of a player than the Champions League final, and no opponent that demands more than City, but it can be done.
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