So after 25 games the premier league title fight is extremely delicately poised. Top three are separated by only a couple of points. All three teams have won identical number of games which is 17 yet their playing style could not be more different from one another. Chelsea have been the most frugal team while we have let in only one goal less than City. City have scored a mammoth 68 goals while us and Chelsea have scored 48 and 47 goals respectively. so City have been the most prolific while Chelsea have been the most frugal.
City seemed to have a hit a minor lull in their storm like form they had a couple of weeks back when Mourinho comprehensively beat them at Etihad. Chelsea seem to be peaking at the right time. We made full use of our fixture list and went 5 point clear at one stage but we threw away the advantage and are now in second place behind Chelsea. At times during the first half of the league City looked like they were going to be unstoppable with the kind of strength and depth they have. Chelsea were far from impressive at the start grinding out results and doing just enough to win the game. They seem to have picked their game up in the last few weeks where it appears they have a more workable solution against all type of oppositions. Now that we have had little background let us look at the playing styles of the three title contenders.
Wenger has continued to employ the possession style of football. Even in a game where we were thumped 5-0 by Liverpool we still had the favorable possession stats. Wenger still believes in keeping the ball on the floor and employs the pass and move style of football. We signed Ozil in the summer and he has been our default No-10 this year. His form has been patchy. He definitely needs time to adapt and impose his authority. The problem for us is that our midfield plays a possession based game while our Striker is more suited to a style where crosses are played in from the flanks or a more direct style.
We are massively missing Walcott who in my view is the only one who is capable of stretching opposition defences with his well timed runs. Ramsey’s form at the start of the season was a massive bonus at the start of the season. His bursting runs from the deep are hard to pick and having him back is going to be a massive plus for us. The problem for us this year has been that whenever we are under pressure we loose our shape and organization. It happened against City and it happened against Liverpool, not to forget in the first half against Southampton. This is not helped by the fact that our first choice holding player is loosing his legs at a rapid pelt. A midfield lynchpin, a pacey/mobile Striker could do wonders to our game. Sadly Wenger chose to do nothing about it in January.
We have failed to replicate our fluidic free flowing football this year. Our defence is the reason we are competing for the title this year. Koscielny & Merteackser have been pillars of strength for us. Wenger’s reluctance to utilize the shooting and goal scoring prowess of Podolski has been another highlight. So many times our passing has been limp and sideways which does only thing which is to boost possession stats. Our passing has been pretty slow and sideways at times. The problem is the not the system per se but wenger is trying to make it work without a pacey Striker and a proper midfield lynchpin.
They have pretty much played the 4-4-1-1 with Aguero playing behind Negredo all year. They employ a fast paced passing game with the likes of Navas and Nasri/Silva providing width and Toure and Fernandinho entrusted with duties in the middle of the park. The Toure and Fernandinho partnership has been easily the best Central midfield partnership as both of them complement each other nicely. Toure can burst through the opposition midfield at will while Fernandinho himself is no mug. Aguero and Negredo form an out standing Striker partnership with Dzeko playing the role of an able deputy.
The highlight of City’s season has been the fearless approach they have adopted this year. They do not stop attacking when some of the other top teams shut shop after taking a comfortable lead. City’s passing is purposeful and fast paced. They have Negredo who can get to the end of crosses played in by the Full backs/wingers while Aguero can dribble past 2 or three opposition defenders to score or lay it down for his Strike partner. City have variety and depth inh pretty much every position. City’s style is effective and eye pleasing against 90% of the teams in the premier league but as Mourinho showed they can be got at by flooding the midfield with solid runners. City’s form is also massively dependent on the form of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho as they do not have a proper replacement for either. City have too much fire power and variety but i am no so sure of their ability to cope when the opposition win the midfield battle against them. They have struggled to break sides down when they have dug in their heels like their last draw against Norwich.
Mourinho started the year trying to play a free flowing passing game but quickly realized he needed to get back to his strengths. These days Chelsea employ a very organized and disciplined approach.
They sit back deep with two midfielders sitting just in front of back four. The addition of Matic has not only added more steel to the heart of their midfield but also given them more dynamism as well. Mourinho”s teams are very good at soaking in pressure for long periods. Every player knows exactly what his role is on a given day. Mourinho employs a simple approach which is mighty effective. Chelsea defend in numbers with everybody behind the ball barring the Striker when they are not in possession but have the ability to launch a counter-attack with a brisk pace. The midfield is extremely balanced with two Central midfielders, one playing a holding role and another a box to box role plus has three pacey players in Oscar, Hazard and Willian who can break at a rapid pelt.
Mourinho expects every player in his team to put in a shift. The only player who has a relatively free role is Oscar but he also is expected to do his bit whenever necessary. Chelsea are peaking at the right time in my opinion. Mourinho does not tinker with his system too much. He may change the personnel or change their roles a tad but he has drilled the team in a way where a certain basic level of performance is pretty much guaranteed. Chelsea play a system which is difficult to break yet they posses the ability to hurt the opposition teams if they turnover possession in a dangerous areas of the pitch.
Chelsea’s style is not eye pleasing but it isn’t boring either. As i said the other day Mourinho knew he needed a holding midfielder more than a Striker to perfect his system. Hazard’s terrific form and Matic’s immediate acclimatization has meant Chelsea look more solid and more effective than any other team in the league ta the moment. Their weakness is their Strikers but with the likes of Willian, Oscar and Hazard they have no shortage of goal scorers. Chelsea let in a fair few at the start of the season but have worked their way in to being the most frugal team in the league.
Ability to Grind out Results: ***1/2
Ability to beat top teams: **1/2
Ability to Grind out Results: ***
Ability to beat top teams: ****
Ability to Grind out Results: ****
Ability to beat top teams: ****1/2
Looking at the fixture list of all three teams and their playing styles i think it is a straight fight between City and Chelsea with us finishing Third. Chelsea’s recent form, the overall balance that they have and the way dominated city at Etihad gives them a slight edge in the title race in my opinion.