One mananger has taken the Premier league by storm the other has had a rather ‘alternative’ season.
Antonio Conte and his Chelsea team have been pretty much faultless all season beating pretty much everyone who comes before them, winning the league and now on the brink of the double should they beat Arsene Wenger and his, some may say, underachieving Arsenal side at Wembley today.
Wenger has had a tough time in recent months with sections of the Emirates faithful playing judge, jury and executioner with multiple banners and protests being in situe at matches toward the latter part of the season and not to mention the rants by supporters on Arsenal Fan TV. But Wenger still stands firm and is expected to sign a 2 year deal despite others thinking he should do the reverse and let a more pragmatic possibly younger coach take the reigns.
This of course doesnt matter today in all honestly as the FA Cup stands alone in respect of if Arsenal beat there fellow Londoners it may appease some Gunners fans (possibly) but with Europa League football next year things long term may not be so rosy for the Frenchman.
Conte, the charismatic and passionate Italian has charmed his way into the hearts of the Shed End at Chelsea and with just cause. They never looked like blowing their lead even with a youthful and energetic Spurs side hanging onto their coat tails.
So to todays game and one would assume their is alot riding for both sides. Conte will still have his team pumped without a doubt and Wenger will see a win today as a message to state he can still lead his team in big games.
Laurent Koscielny banned after his moment of madness against Everton last week and he will be a miss especially against the robustness and willing runner in Diego Costa. Per Mertesacker may come in for him as Gabriel is also out injured again against Everton. Aaron Ramsey has fine FA Cup pedigree in goalscoring terms and should play in place of Coquelin. Mesut Ozil needs a performance today having been a tad lacklustre in recent games and the PFA player of the year N’golo Kante will be tasked with disrupting the flow of the German aswell as Alexis Sanchez.
For Chelsea Cesc Fabregas should play against his old side in place of Nemanja Matic with no other changes to the regular starting 11 for Antonio Conte. At the back, David Luiz will be keen to keep Olivier Giroud quiet.
Wing backs v Full backs
The key battle i believe will be on the flanks. Wenger’s recent change to play a 3-4-2-1 had its issues early on but it has come good and will have to be at its strongest today against the attacking nouse of the 3-4-3 that Conte has brought to Chelsea. Can Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding halt the charge if Victor Moses and Pedro? Mirrored on the other flank against Mustafi and Bellerin is Eden Hazard and Marcus Alonso. Of course Arsenal will be a threat going the other way so the reverse applies but either way this is where the game will be won and lost with the Chelsea front 3 stretching and moving that Arsenal back 3/5 around, Hazard in particular is hard to track cutting in and popping up in between the lines so Xhaka and Ramsey will need to be aware. Wenger will also be cautious that Bellerin and Monreal may be overran by the double threat down their respective flanks with Chelsea playing Alonso and Moses high up the pitch with Pedro and Hazard. Will Arsenal look for a high line to counter the threat of the passing range of Fabregas over the top for Costa? Dont doubt that Arsenal will be a threat with Sanchez, Ozil and with Giroud at set pieces.
Jose Mourinho and his players will be facing an in form and confident Ajax side who in the first leg of their semi final blew away Lyon with a 4-1 home win. That first leg was immensely impressive from a side with an average age of 21 and although they nearly came unstuck in the second leg the boys from Amsterdam went through into their first final since the glory days of Patrick Kluivert. Can the son of a Dutch legend repeat his fathers efforts in a European competition?Justin will be certainly be hoping so in Stockholm this evening. Looking at my graphic above i hadnt accounted for Viergever being suspended with Riedewald probably moving to left back for Ajax. Having won just 3 of the last 6 games the season didnt end greatly for the Dutchmen but this is a massive game for the youn men and form shouldnt play a part.
Much has been said about Mourinho resting key players ahead of the Final but i still believe Carrick will be left out of the 11 with the fit again Juan Mata taking his place of course i may be wrong but i woukd rather fight fire with fire as Ajax can come at you fast and they move the ball extremely well and with pace and can well be out of sight should you let them with Kasper Dolberg will be a menace as will Chelsea man Betrand Traorè and midgield maestro Klaassen. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic United have looked like they lack leadership and tonight they will need one. Pogba, Herrera and Valencia amongst others come into the starting 11 after being rested at the weekend.
Essentially it is men against boys but if Ajax can get the first goal i think they will go on to victory.
My prediction: 2-1
Formation Played Won Drawn Lost Conceded Scored Win %
4-2-3-1 12 8 1 3 11 24 66%
4-1-4-1 7 3 4 0 6 13 42%
4-3-3 6 6 0 0 4 15 100%
3-4-2-1 2 0 1 1 4 2 0%
3-4-3 1 0 1 0 1 1 0%
3-4-3 (Diamond) 1 0 1 0 4 2 0%
4-1-2-1-2 1 0 0 1 4 0 0%
After last night’s defeat to Chelsea and my constant frustration at not being able to predict Pep’s starting eleven for Manchester City I thought I would take a deeper look at if his constant messing around with his team selection and formations has hampered his sides title charge and what could be the solution.
The table above shows the basic win percentages of these team shapes in the Premier League this season. In more recent games Pep has tried to persevere with the 4-1-4-1 shape with Yaya Toure in the holding role in front of a back four of Clichy, Stones, Otamendi and Sagna/Zabaleta but even this has been infrequent and with a win percentage of 42% should he of stuck with it a bit more?.
The bottom four in that table can be discounted as these seem to be more of an experimental time in his tenure but injuries could be a factor in these set ups. Guardiola does like to play with 3 at the back if he and when he can with usually Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov/Zabaleta with wing backs Clichy and Sagna operating on the flanks but also moving in to the centre of midfield so that the back three can spread out to not only receive the ball from the goalkeeper but to make the pitch as wide as possible to make the opposition attackers have to work harder.
4-3-3 clearly worked with a 100% win percentage albeit only for six games with the best, and last of them coming in a 0-2 win away against Sunderland on the 5 March. Although facing a weaker opposition in Sinderland City were in total control and with Toure sitting Fernandinho covering aswell, Silva and the other front three were able to attack with gusto. This game did coincide with Kevin De Bruyne being injured so again maybe him being absent dictated team shape?
The main success from a formation point of view has been the 4-2-3-1 without a doubt in my opinion. The loss to Chelsea last night doesn’t contradict this in anyway. The selection of Delph instead of Toure was baffling to say the least with the Ivorian clearly better at a holding role that Delph and the call in the second half for him to come on never happened and if he had come on I think City would have snatched a point with his passing and driving forward attitude. Jesus Navas is not a wing back and although his performance last night was better against Arsenal at the weekend he was poor and clearly Bacary Sagna is the better choice but come the summer both he and Clichy may find themselves surplus to requirements.
In summary Guardiola hasn’t helped himself with his selections and I for one am disappointed that it has gone this way as I truly believe had he found the ideal shape and players for his team, just as Antonio Conte has at Chelsea, City really would have been a force to be reckoned with.