Premier League titans Manchester City and Chelsea are preparing for their FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola’s side are still on for an incredible Quadruple, with their Carabao Cup final next weekend, along with reaching the Champions League final four while dominating the league title race. Thomas Tuchel’s Blues have proven tough to beat since the German took over.
Leicester City and Southampton lock horns in the other semi-final tie, with the Saints hoping to steal the show as outsiders.
Sportsmail’s columnist Martin Keown talks tactics ahead of the two FA Cup semi-final showdowns this weekend.
Premier League titans Manchester City and Chelsea are preparing for their FA Cup semi-final
This could be the start of a season-defining trilogy between Manchester City and Chelsea
So, can Chelsea top the ultimate passing machine?
This could be the start of a season-defining trilogy between Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea. They meet in the FA Cup’s semi finals today, then in the Premier League, then potentially in the Champions League final. City have been getting all the plaudits for their majestic play but the trophies haven’t been given out yet. The Premier League looks like it’s in the bag. But if you’re Chelsea, you’re believing you can still enjoy an even better season than City by taking the FA Cup and Champions League. Today represents the ultimate challenge for these two coaches and their contrasting styles. Both like to control games but they do it in different ways.
City have been getting plaudits for their majestic play but trophies haven’t been given out yet
Guardiola does it by flooding players all over the pitch and passing the opposition into submission. Whereas Tuchel does it by stopping the opposition with his strong defence and with a willingness to break forward at pace.
After frustrating Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday, the Chelsea manager said: ‘Part of a performance is to not let the others perform and we did this.’ That told me he enjoys stopping the opposition from playing.
The problem for Chelsea is City are currently moving the ball better than ever. They have become the ultimate passing machine. They made more than 700 passes in the Champions League on Wednesday – 300 more than the high-quality Borussia Dortmund side who were playing at home.
Dortmund wanted to engage but City passed them to a standstill. With this approach, Raheem Sterling has become an unfortunate victim as the City player who runs with the ball more than anyone else.
He didn’t start either of the legs and is finding himself out of the starting line up. Guardiola wants to see the ball passed and is selecting sides that can do that most effectively. The City boss is even naming false nines to add another passer into the mix.
Tuchel’s Chelsea side won’t surrender possession lightly against the controlling Man City
Out of possession they’re hoovering up the opposition to get the ball off them, then they restart their passing cycle all over again. City are simply relentless.
As tempting as it is to discuss the individual talent of Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, it’s taken a collective effort to come this close to a potential quadruple.
This is the enormous challenge facing Chelsea, who want to make it into their fourth FA Cup final in five years.
To stop this City machine currently represents one of football’s toughest tasks. But if anyone can do it, it is Tuchel’s Chelsea. He likes his team to be safe and secure.
They don’t score freely but that freak 5-2 defeat by West Brom aside, Tuchel’s side have been outstanding at the back. They defend with seven men – using five defenders with two midfielders in front.
Even when their wing backs fly forward to give them width, Chelsea’s back three and midfield two stay together, ensuring they always have a secure base.
His side always have a solid base and will be dangerous on the counter attack against City
Tuchel’s Chelsea won’t surrender possession lightly. It’s only happened once under him in the Premier League and that was against Liverpool at Anfield.
Chelsea sat deep and won 1-0 courtesy of a counter-attack scored by Mason Mount. Tuchel would love a repeat of that.
Although Guardiola has made more game-to-game changes to his starting line-up than any other Premier League manager this season, I feel he must field his best XI for Chelsea today.
If they make it to the Champions League final, this will be the first of three epic games between Guardiola and Tuchel. Both will be desperate to get this trilogy off to a winning start.
Cup success can save season for Ralph Hasenhuttl
I’m sure Ralph Hasenhuttl is sick to the back teeth of hearing about that 9-0 against Leicester. It’s repeatedly been used as a reference point.
When Southampton beat Newcastle to move top of the table in November, it was highlighted how it came a year on from that defeat. When Hasenhuttl beat Jurgen Klopp and sank to his knees at full time, it was said they’d gone from losing 9-0 to sitting on cloud nine.
Since that victory over Liverpool, however, Southampton have won just two of their 14 Premier League games. They’ve tumbled down the table. Now the FA Cup could save their season and tomorrow they can finally put that 9-0 defeat behind them once and for all.
Southampton have tumbled down the table and now the FA Cup could save their season
This would be the ultimate payback to knock out Leicester. Brendan Rodgers will be aware that Southampton like to play out from the back and have lost possession more than any other Premier League club this season. Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho will pounce on any mistakes made.
Although Vardy has only scored a single goal in 2021, tomorrow represents one of the last chances the 34-year-old will get to reach a final. I’m sure he’ll be desperate to write his name in the FA Cup history books in that Wembley showpiece.
But Southampton will be just as concerned about Vardy’s strike partner Iheanacho, who is in outstanding form with nine goals in six games.