Chelsea vs. Man City preview: Tuchel to maintain his edge on Guardiola?

Although it is still early to discuss title-deciding games as it is not yet October, Saturday's Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City is important in terms of who sets early pace.
Chelsea have a great start to the season, winning four of their five first games and drawing one. They also conceded only once. Pep Guardiola & Co. have had a more difficult season, with a loss to Tottenham in their season opener. After that, they won three straight against Leicester, Arsenal, and Norwich before drawing 0-0 with Southampton. Man City started last season with a poor start. They won just six of 13 games, before winning 13 consecutive wins to win their third title in four years.

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Thomas Tuchel has transformed Chelsea, and also kept Man City under control, winning three consecutive games against Guardiola since January. There was a FA Cup semifinal win on April 17, followed by a league win on May 8, a 2-1 win on May 8, and the Champions League final win on May 29.

What's Saturday's game like? The game will be viewed by ESPN's Julien Laurens and Gabriele Marcotti as well as Mark Ogden, James Olley, and Mark Ogden.

1. Man City title to lose? Or Chelsea, better placed?

Gab Marcotti: I think City are still favorites, and they'll likely remain favorites even if it loses (though being six behind in September -- which would be where they'd have been if they lost -- isn't nothing).

It is odd that this happens at a time when neither team is firing on all cylinders. City lost three games at home to Leipzig and was held to a draw against Southampton. Chelsea has won three of their last three matches, but I was only impressed by the performance against Spurs in the second half. Both of these teams are going to get better over the course of the season.

Julien Laurens. I believe that Chelsea is better placed right now, even though you cannot dismiss a Guardiola team. They're in a strong place: they're unbeaten this year, they have one of Europe's tightest defenses, having conceded only two goals in seven competitions. While they integrate Romelu Lukaku (one of the most skilled strikers in the game), into their play style, they are not yet able to win. They are stronger than last season, when they won City and Guardiola three consecutive times.

Chelsea has only increased their talent from last year. Their confidence is high and their momentum is growing. They also have strong faith in their manager and each other. While I don't see any weakness in them, I do think City, as we saw against Tottenham, Southampton, and to a lesser extent against RB Leipzig, are not in the best rhythm. This match could prove to be a decisive turning point in Tuchel's Chelsea victory over Guardiola's City.

Mark Ogden says: This is definitely not City's title. City's failure to sign a striker in the summer and the deals made by Chelsea and Manchester United have brought them back in the pack. Liverpool, however, are still a strong team. It's still September, so it's too early to give a favorite tag. City will still have problems if they lose at Stamford Bridge or Anfield next weekend. It will be much more difficult to close the gap on their rivals this time.

Who will fill the gap if Lukaku becomes incapacitated? Chelsea is without a striker this summer with Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud both departing. This leaves them vulnerable to their weaknesses. Although Saturday is a significant game, its true importance -- if any -- will only be apparent at the end.

James Olley: City won three of the four Premier Leagues they have been in and were therefore considered favourites for preseason. Their recent record spans a 38-game campaign. This is something Chelsea does not have. They also managed to score 20 goals or more in the last campaign to become champions. It will be difficult to replicate the feat in the coming weeks, particularly since they needed a 15-game winning streak last season to overcome their slow start. All of their main rivals, including Chelsea, have improved.

Victory this weekend would give the Blues a boost in self-belief. City knows they are eight points behind the pace after eight league games last year, but they fought back to win the league. Saturday's defeat will not be an insurmountable obstacle. They cannot afford to lose the high quality of the top sides.

2. Is Tuchel better than Guardiola?

Ogden: Guardiola won't play it down publicly, but make no mistake, he will want to beat Tuchel this weekend. Guardiola has lost three straight games against Chelsea's manager, and in the Champions League final we saw how Guardiola can let himself be over-thinking his approach to win. Guardiola played with an aggressive lineup without a holding midfielder and it felt like he wanted to win Chelsea. It backfired spectacularly as Tuchel saw the flaws in Guardiola's approach and won the Champions League.

Since arriving at Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel has been able to measure Guardiola. Will Saturday bring more of the same? Alexander Hassenstein – UEFA/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Guardiola must keep it simple and allow his players to perform in the roles they are familiar with if he wants to win back. Guardiola should keep his ego at bay and stick to a rational and tactical selection. City has better players than Chelsea so let them prove it.

Marcotti: While I don't mean to sound pompous, the obvious answer to City's problems is to just let it be City and play the opposition well, rather than trying cleverly to outsmart himself, as he did in last year's Champions League final.

As I see it, Phil Foden's fitness and Kevin De Bruyne's are a big call. You can assume that they will be available for this game after their midweek 6-1 Carabao Cup victory over Wycombe. One way I would expect to accomplish this is to drop Ferran Turres, at least in the beginning, and to play Foden or De Bruyne up front. This will leave Chelsea's back three without anyone to mark and allow them to draw them out that way. You then pick your spots, and you wait for something to happen.

Perhaps I am too conservative, but I think that a draw without scoring is not a bad outcome for City.

Olley: Gab isn’t being arrogant here -- he’s 100% right about Guardiola's performance in the Champions League final. The gamble of playing without a recognized holding midfielder was clearly predicated on the need for as many technicians in central Midfield to match Chelsea's approach. Guardiola spoke out in a BT Sport interview about how much this was occupying Guardiola's thoughts on the eve.

He said, "Chelsea play so well because they have three central defenses close, two holding midfielders move in relation, the pockets close, and the striker is so, so close to the [others attacking]." They are close to each other, but they are also so far apart with their wing-backs. They are great with the ball in the back. Because they push you [outside], and have many good players in the middle, you can't be close. It's hard to face teams that want the ball and want it to be played with. Since day one, we've tried.

Guardiola will focus his efforts on finding a better solution in the build-up to the match and this could be the key to winning.

Laurens: I think that a draw on Saturday would be a good result for both managers and teams. Guardiola doesn't see this match as a way to win the revenge game against Tuchel, after his three defeats last season. Guardiola doesn't think that way. He doesn't think like that.

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Guardiola tried Gabriel Jesus at the front, Sergio Aguero and Jesus together, and then finally De Bruyne. None of this worked. Last year, Chelsea had more shots on target than City and had higher xG (expectant goals). Guardiola must change if he is to win the game. Torres can run down the middle at a fast pace. To be physically strong and to put Jorginho under immense pressure, Fernandinho should play in the midfield.

City's press was unable to win every game against Chelsea last year; they must do it again or be exposed by the Blues' play patterns and threat from Lukaku.

3. What player (or combination of players) will be the key?

Laurens: Edouard Mendy, Ederson are goalkeepers. Mendy's performance has been extraordinary since his arrival from Rennes, and even more so after Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard. Under Tuchel, Chelsea has kept 15 more clean sheets than they have conceded (14) in the Premier League. Although he may not be the most elegant of players, he is extremely efficient and his defense is strong.

Ederson made a crucial mistake in the Champions League final, and it cost his team their game. He's not always composed at the back, and conceded three times against Leipzig last weekend. He changes his defense all the time, and against Lukaku & Co. they cannot afford to make any errors or Chelsea will punish them.

Ogden: Saturday's focus will be on Lukaku and whether he can show that he is a striker capable of winning big games against lesser teams. The Chelsea forward is unquestionably a crucial figure in this match. However, it will be determined by which De Bruyne version turns up at Stamford Bridge.

Since 2015 when he returned to the Premier League, the City midfielder has been a constant tormentor to his former club. On his day, he is arguably the most talented player in the league. The Belgian international suffered an injury in the Champions League final. He was playing out of position as a false nine and had a broken eye socket from a collision with Antonio Rudiger. Although his ankle injury at Euro 2020 was a problem early in the season, he still managed to make his first start against Wycombe. He will now be pushing for a match against Chelsea.

De Bruyne, if he is even close to his full fitness, will be a problem for Chelsea. He represents City's best chance of winning. De Bruyne is always eager to prove a point at Stamford Bridge and he never disappoints.

Olley: In this game, the team who got their big-money striker will face off against the one who didn't. If Lukaku succeeds, City's inability will be exposed further.

Lukaku's progress under Antonio Conte at Inter Milan can be seen. However, if anyone has any doubts about the 28 year-old, it's his record against the "big six". Lukaku scored 21 goals against City, Liverpool and Tottenham. He scored only once against these teams during his time at United, the last time he was expected make a big splash here in England.

While the Blues are in a much better position now than they were in 2017-19, the expectation is that Lukaku will deliver the goals that win Chelsea The Premier League. On Saturday, he can make a big statement.

Kevin De Bruyne (right) will need to be at their best if Man City want to bring three points home to Stamford Bridge. Matt McNulty, Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Marcotti: I'll take RubenDias on the City end. He'll have to deal with large, awkward, and talented opponents, regardless of whether it's Kai Havertz or Lukaku coming from deeper. It's not about him as a player; it's about keeping his back four focused on snuffing danger out. City has so many attacking weapons, I don't want one to be the only one. That's why I am going with a defense.

4. Okay, it's time to predict.

Olley: Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-1. Last week, Tuchel stated that Chelsea's performance was "not running smoothly", but they are finding ways to win matches and appear marginally better than City.

Marcotti: Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City. At this stage, I believe a draw is best for both sides. Chelsea hasn't conceded in open play or 11 against 11 this season. This is because they have a reason. I expect City to be able to pick up a set piece or individual skill.

Laurens: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City. This game is likely to end in a draw but both teams will score. Although it won't be an open match, there will be chances. I expect each team to win at least one.

Ogden: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester City. City have only conceded one league goal and scored one more than Chelsea this season, so don't be misled about a crisis at Etihad. They may not have a true centre-forward but they are still a powerful attacking force. Their determination to win against Chelsea will motivate them.