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When Chelsea visit Manchester City on Monday night, it’s a meeting of the two Premier League title favourites - who are chasing league glory in completely contrasting styles. City are a free-scoring, offer code with bet365 fluid machine which borders on reckless, while Chelsea are the efficient, work-in-progress side that Jose Mourinho prides on defensive collaboration, over an attacking mind-set.

>>> Man City v Chelsea, 3/1 Both Teams To Score!


One of the most interesting contrasts between the sides is in the midfield engine room. Manuel Pellegrini opts for what was, and in some circles still is, seen as an outdated 4-4-2, which relies on both central midfielders to work as a pivot. Mourinho on the other hand has always put his faith in a holding midfielder, known sometimes as the ‘Claude Makelele role’ that Mourinho enforced in his first Chelsea spell.


Makelele and Chelsea’s success almost a decade ago seemed to welcome a wave of holding midfielders, tasked with protecting the defence and feeding the attacking players. It seems almost all the top clubs employ a defensive midfielder now with the likes of Lucas Leiva, Sandro, Mikel Arteta and John Obi Mikel all residing at clubs in the top five whose job it is to purely ensure attacking players are given licence to hurt the opposition.
 

Interestingly, Tottenham first team coach Les Ferdinand told the Tottenham Journal of how Claude Makelele was the “worst thing to happen to this league.” It obviously wasn’t a personal slight on Makelele but instead a cry against what Ferdinand calls “a crop of players who don’t want to go over the halfway line, who don’t want to pass over the halfway line and are happy to just sit in front of the back four.”
 

 

City this season have gone against the grain somewhat by adopting two up front, coupled with two central midfielders who interchange forward and defensive duties. The new wave of 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations seemed to outdate the old-fashioned use of 4-4-2 which made it difficult to get hold of the game in midfield, while a roaming or attacking midfielder would be able to pop up between the defensive and midfield lines of a 4-4-2.
 

However, City’s use of it is so fluid with their wider players that they aren’t over-run in the midfield areas. David Silva and, when fit, Samir Nasri, like to come inside and help retain the ball, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho both have licence to get ahead of the ball and get involved as long as the other sits. It’s allowed them to almost overpower teams with their movement, especially when their full-backs come forward to provide the width. Alexander Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta’s influence is demonstrated by having five and four assists this season respectively, with only two players assisting more than the latter’s five.

>>> Man City v Chelsea, 3/1 Both Teams To Score!
 

City’s 68 goals in the league this season is 25 more than their (supposed) closest challengers Chelsea. Meanwhile, they’ve conceded just six more goals than the Blues, whose tactic of 4-2-3-1 has seen them record the best defensive record in the league but look nowhere near the superior force City have at times this season. Mourinho’s unceremonious dropping of Juan Mata was largely due to his worry over the Spaniard’s defensive qualities. Mourinho is far more cautious in his midfield approach compared to Pellegrini, his three central midfield players are each assigned individual responsibilities instead of working to compliment and cover each other.

One (usually Mikel, David Luiz or now Nemanja Matic) sits in front of the back four, breaking up play and trying to start attacks. The other (Ramires or Frank Lampard), is a box-to-box player tasked with dual responsibilities of defending and attacking, while the No.10 role, occupied by and large by Oscar, is given the most freedom to create chances going forward but also press the ball up the pitch. This approach certainly helps Chelsea set up in an organised defensive mode but it also makes them far more predictable going forward than title counterparts City.


Usually big games such as Monday’s encounter are decided in midfield as whoever gains control here tends to assert dominance in the match. However, City’s dominance is gained from their attacking fluidity and quality. They don’t necessarily dominate the ball itself. Indeed they average just 53.5% for matches in the Premier League and Champions League this season, so it’s clear they don’t view their dominance through simply having the ball.
The use of a defensive midfielder gives a team more control of the ball in the middle of the park but City’s bypassing of that offers far more potency going forward, admittedly at some expense of defensive solidarity. It means the key to Monday’s game will be how Chelsea deal with the fluidity of City’s midfield four as an attacking system, rather than wrestling the control of the game from their grasp in a possession sense.