The first English trophy of 2019 will be handed out on Sunday when Manchester City take on Chelsea in the Carabao Cup Final. City are flying high, winning five in a row after a thrilling comeback in the Champions League against Schalke. Chelsea, however, are a mess, with the English press speculating Maurizio Sarri could be fired and having been placed under a transfer ban by FIFA.
Carabao Cup Final Preview: City in Driver’s Seat Against Chelsea
The Run In
These two teams couldn’t be in more polar opposite positions coming into this game. The situation at Chelsea has been well documented, so there isn’t much to say, but five wins and five losses in their last ten games is not a great run. There have been some disappointing results in that run too, such as 4-0 against Bournemouth, 2-0 against Arsenal, 2-0 at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup and a 6-0 capitulation at the hands of Manchester City just two weeks ago.
Pep Guardiola’s side know that Chelsea won’t be that easy to beat in this game. These are professionals, after all; nobody likes being that bad at their job twice. Which is why it’s a good thing that City come into this game on a good run of form. Not quite the 28-0 run they went on before the Newcastle game but, since then, they’ve outscored their opponents 17-4.
Their most recent Champions League comeback could have an effect on this game. They played 30 minutes of that game down a man, and players like Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling were crucial in their success. Can they have the same level of fitness in a cup final just four days later?
The fact that both of these teams played midweek, and will be again in the upcoming midweek, will add to the ingenuity of the tactics. Both Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri play a style that presses the opposition and predicates on keeping possession of the ball, but they have a very different way of using those tactics.
Sarri, ever rigorous, sets his team up the same as much as he can. It was his biggest criticism at Napoli and that criticism has followed him to Chelsea. He does not change and he does not care to change; he believes adherence to his philosophy will win out in the end. So there are no points for guessing the eleven that he will put out there on Sunday.
Guardiola goes about his style the complete opposite way. He is always willing to change the formation and rotate his squad accordingly, which makes guessing his team selection even harder. The one constant throughout this season has been Aymeric Laporte. The French defender has been world-class this season and should be a near certainty to start this game.
As for the rest of the team, there are no guarantees. It seems like Arjnet Muric will start in goal, as he has in the Carabao Cup all season. Joining Laporte in the backline should be Danilo, Vincent Kompany, and Oleksandr Zinchenko. A midfield three of Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan makes the most sense, with a front three of Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane after a strong performance in midweek.
No matter who starts this game for either side, it will be an intense battle. These are two teams that play high-pressing and possession-based football. There could be any number of changes to either side given the time of the season and that this is the Carabao Cup. Also, these are two teams with different objectives within this season. Yes, everyone likes a trophy, but only one of these teams need a result.
Due to that, it seems reasonable for Chelsea to come out flying. There is an argument that a squad this toxic might do the opposite to try and get Sarri fired but, again, these are professionals who like to win things. People like Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain will not miss the chance to get back at City and the best way for them to do that is to come out swinging.
Whether or not they can get an early goal should not affect the pattern of the game too much. Eventually, it will settle into long periods of possession for each team. The two games they played this season have been split 60/40 and 55/45 in favor of City and that should be the case on Sunday.
So, it will be up to each team to take their chances, and the earlier they do the better. City didn’t take their chances when they traveled to Stamford Bridge in December, but there was no Sergio Aguero. Aguero himself destroyed Chelsea when they came to the Etihad; can he do it for the second time in two weeks?
It’s really tough to see anything but a Manchester City win in this game. They have been a better side than Chelsea all season but it will be the size and quality of Manchester City that will win this game for them. The ability to turn to different players in different moments, versus using the same players week-in-week-out, pays dividends this time of year. With a scoreline of 3-1, City will lift their first trophy of the season.