Pep Guardiola knows all about the strength of Chelsea ahead of this weekend’s high-profile clash between the Blues and Manchester City.
The Spanish coach has lost in each of his past three contests against Thomas Tuchel’s men in the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League.
In the build-up to their last bout – which was last season’s Champions League final – Guardiola elaborated on why Chelsea are such difficult opposition to overcome.
Speaking to Rio Ferdinand, the 50-year-old said: “They have three central defenders close, the two holding midfielders who move in relation are close, the pockets are close, the striker and the two [others in attack] are so, so close.”
The City boss was quick to reference the close proximity of Chelsea’s players, who benefit on the defensive side of the game as a consequence.
The Blues haven’t conceded from open play in the Premier League so far this season, and since Tuchel took charge in January, they have conceded a total of just 14 league goals.
City have shipped 20 over the same period and Liverpool have conceded 21, which captures the level of Chelsea’s defensive performances.
“The distances are so close, and at the same time they are so wide with the wing backs. That’s why you cannot be close because they push you [out wide] and they have a lot of good players in the middle,” said Guardiola.
Chelsea’s width stems from the 3-4-3 system that Tuchel has favoured since his tenure began. His wing-backs are able to stretch the play from side to side by hugging the touchlines.
In addition to stretching opponents horizontally, the Blues can do the same from top to bottom. “They are so good with the ball in behind,” Guardiola continued, referencing the speed of Timo Werner at the time.
The German forward is still part of the squad but his presence at the top of Chelsea’s attack has almost been replaced by Romelu Lukaku, who is equally capable of threatening in behind.
Lukaku will only add to Guardiola’s problems this weekend as the City boss tries to formulate a plan to beat Tuchel’s Chelsea outfit for the first time.
It remains to be seen what he’ll come up with but based on Tuchel’s expert in-game management against Spurs recently, he’ll be equipped to hastily solve any tactical issues that emerge.