Pitchside

Why Chelsea could punish Manchester City once more

Pitchside Europe

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In the late kick off on Saturday, Chelsea return to the ground at which they threw the title race wide open only last week, travelling to Manchester City for a clash in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup.

By winning at the Etihad last Monday, Chelsea became the first team to shut City out on their stomping ground in 56 matches in all competitions, a run stretching back to midway through 2011/12. After failing to net at Carrow Road in their following game, one has to wonder whether lightning can strike twice for José Mourinho's men.

Manuel Pellegrini's side have been almost unstoppable - particularly in front of goal - on home soil this season, as the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham and Norwich have discovered to devastating effect. City took until only mid-January to pass 100 goals for the season and continued in that vein to reach 115 before Chelsea's visit, but have come a little unstuck with consecutive blanks in their most recent clashes.

The continued absence of key players Fernandinho and Sergio Agüero through injury have contributed to recent results, and there is thus hope for the Blues that they can pull off another improbable victory to reach the FA Cup quarter finals this weekend. Having themselves slipped up at West Brom in midweek, however, how the next clash will pan out is anyone's guess.

There are unlikely to be too many changes in terms of personnel on either side, and Mourinho's gameplan could well be to hit his opponents on the break once again, utilising the pace of Eden Hazard, Willian and Ramires.

City struggled against that tactic in the sides' last meeting, with the likes of Martín Demichelis dawdling in possession too often and the team as a whole caught high up the pitch as Chelsea broke away. Pellegrini likes his full-backs to get forwards and join attacks, and Mourinho spotted a chance to exploit that, with his side putting his plan perfectly into action.

City dominated possession (65%), with the vast majority of the play taking place in Chelsea's half of the field. While lots of City's best chances came from set pieces - as outlined in WhoScored.com's match report - Chelsea effectively created chances from attacks down the flanks, through counter-attacks and from set pieces. There was more variety to Chelsea's attacks as they used the space they had afforded themselves by inviting City on to them to create chances.

Hazard was key, winning the WhoScored man of the match award after completing an incredible 11 successful dribbles as he carried the play forward and terrorised City's backtracking defenders. They ended up winning the tie 1-0 but it could, and arguably should, have been more.

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Agüero is likely to be the bigger of the losses to City; they have averaged 3.3 goals per Premier League game with the Argentian starting this season, compared to 1.8 when he is missing.

However, compounded with the loss of Fernandinho, the Manchester side are severely weakened. The Brazilian is highly undervalued in the team, but they have won 16 of the 20 league games he has started since signing (80%), compared to just 1 of the 5 (20%) matches he has missed.

Against opponents like a José Mourinho-led Chelsea, they could well be punished once again.

Alistair Tweedale on Twitter @alitweedale

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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