The Blues’ biggest tactical departure this season was at home against Pep Guardiola’s side and they now prepare for round two at the Etihad Stadium
Maurizio Sarri thinks the way Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City play forces Chelsea to change tactics, leading to Eden Hazard playing in the central striker role.
Hazard has expressed his preference for playing as a winger in the past, but Sarri likes to move the Belgian to the centre in games where his team cannot dominate possession as they usually do.
Chelsea beat City 2-0 at home in December when Hazard played in the ‘false nine’ role and, ahead of Sunday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium, Sarri has hinted at another tactical switch against Pep Guardiola’s side.
“At the moment the situation is different. We have another striker [Higuain instead of Morata],” Sarri told reporters at Cobham Training Centre. “We can make another decision. But I don’t know; maybe we will play with a ‘false nine’. I have to decide.
“The situation is not like the other match, so I can decide something different or have a ‘false nine’. I expect Guardiola’s team want to always be in control of the match, always in possession of the ball and they’re able to do it. So, it’s a very difficult match.
“We are used to having the ball and possession so, on Sunday, it will be very different. Maybe we have to defend lower. [In December] they were able to press us in our half. It wasn’t a choice. It was a necessity. So, I think on Sunday it will be the same.
“You know very well that the midfield of Manchester City is one of the best in the world, not only Fernandinho but also Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, David Silva. Technically, they’re the best midfield in Europe at the moment, so it will be really very difficult to be in control of the match.
“We will try to play our football, but if they are able to play their football, of course, you have to stay lower. In the first match, we were lucky to score. Then, especially the first 20, 25 minutes of the second half, they gave us spaces, so it was a little bit easier.”
Jorginho will be at the centre of the midfield battle and Guardiola had instructed City to try to sign the Italy international in the summer, only for Chelsea to land him for £57 million in their deal to also bring Sarri in from Napoli.
The midfielder has struggled since arriving in England, being man-marked successfully by a host of sides, but Sarri thinks that the 27-year-old will get better, as Chelsea begin to become more proficient in the system dubbed ‘Sarriball’.
“I remember that in Naples it wasn’t a big problem if there was a man on Jorginho, so I hope it will be the same here in the future,” he added.
Chelsea eased to a 5-0 win over Huddersfield in their last league match but the game against City is just one of a number of difficult games in a busy month.
Seven games in February feature two meetings with City, including the Carabao Cup final, while the FA Cup fifth-round draw sees them face Manchester United. Sarri’s side also have a league fixture coming up against Tottenham, and the Europa League knockout stage is also set to kick off.
The 60-year-old believes that this month’s fixture list has become unfavourable to his side and admits that it will be a struggle to cope with the workload.
“I think so. Especially if you have to play very expensive matches — twice against City, one against Tottenham, one against Manchester United,” he concluded. “Then, the Europa League. So, it’s a little too much.”