Ahead of Chelsea's clash with Man City, we look at how Andre Villas-Boas might achieve a win.
By Follow Peter Fraser on Twitter - @SkySportsPeteF
Last Updated: 12/12/11 12:41pm
Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has delivered conflicting messages about his side's Premier League title chances if they suffer defeat against Manchester City in Monday night's meeting at Stamford Bridge.
Time will tell for the Portuguese, who has been bristling over the past fortnight at a perceived media agenda against his club - while also getting involved in a war of words with Newcastle counterpart Alan Pardew.
But a victory over unbeaten Premier League leaders City would be a significant statement and would cut Chelsea's deficit to seven points. How might Villas-Boas go about masterminding the victory?
If any tactics are to prove successful, Chelsea will first need to remain calm in what is expected to be a fiery atmosphere under the floodlights at Stamford Bridge. This particularly applies to Villas-Boas, who has shown signs of snapping as a result of pressure. Following his juggernaut success at Porto, the 34-year-old has for the first time been on the receiving end of criticism amid Chelsea's inconsistency and he has demonstrated signs of inexperience. Villas-Boas' almost slapstick, nerdish mannerisms on the touchline are a trademark, but he, and his coaching staff, who angered Newcastle at St James' Park, will need to remain composed against City. Roberto Mancini is self-control personified in the technical area, which has this season been reflected in the patient and then ruthless approach of his team. Villas-Boas will need to maintain a similar mindset in order to transmit clear thinking and ultimately a game-plan to his players.
It is no coincidence that the only two teams who have stopped City winning in the league this season base their game on meticulous organisation and shape when not in possession. Fulham, who drew 2-2 with City in September, and Liverpool, who finished 1-1 at the end of November, both frustrated Mancini's side before launching their attacks. Both results were designed by closing out the gaps between defence and midfield and therefore denying space to City's creative forces, including the likes of David Silva and Samir Nasri. When possession was lost, Fulham and Liverpool, respectively, reverted to rigid lines of defence and midfield, which made it tough for City to pick their way through. Villas-Boas again needs to swallow his pride and play a more disciplined style, as was the case in the 3-0 win over Valencia last week. His preference in the long term is for an expansive, creative style of play. However, Chelsea will be outclassed if they try and take City on in this manner. A deep defensive line, which will be missing the suspended David Luiz, is vital and a replica of the Valencia display, Chelsea's best performance of the season so far, is required.
When Chelsea do have the ball, they must look to attack. Both Bayern Munich and Liverpool targeted City's flanks in the UEFA Champions League and Premier League. At the Allianz Arena, Bayern's full-strength team administered a comprehensive defeat on Mancini's men. At Anfield, Liverpool came very close to inflicting a first league defeat of the season upon City. The key in the matches was the role of attacking full-backs. Rafinha and former City player Jerome Boateng were both given orders to get forward by Bayern, and Liverpool did likewise with Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique. Of course, it leaves any side susceptible to a counter-attack. But Villas-Boas needs to be brave and aim to attack when in possession. With Micah Richards injured, Ashley Cole's never-ending energy could expose Pablo Zabaleta, and Jose Bosingwa's attacking instincts are better suited to exposing Gael Clichy's defensive weaknesses.
There will be a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old in what is going to be a vitally-important midfield role. Romeu is again expected to be partnered in central midfield by Raul Meireles, with Frank Lampard a substitute and Michael Essien still injured. He will therefore be charged with the task of putting out fires in the heart of the field and he will have to contest against the guile of Silva and raw power of Yaya Toure. It is likely to be an exhausting evening for Romeu, but he is crucial to Chelsea's chances. The former Barcelona youngster was brilliantly, quietly effective against Valencia and needs to produce a display to compare. Meireles can tackle, however, it is not a strong point and his preference is to attack. Romeu must therefore look to provide a physical presence against Toure and at the same time an intelligence to match Silva. It could be an education for the Spain Under 21 international. Chelsea will hope Romeu comes of age.
Much has been made of the Chelsea schemer's reunion with former Valencia team-mate Silva. Of course, they are likely to be at opposite ends of the field, but they are of equal importance. Mata is the man who could unpick City. Mancini's team is based upon physical power and strength in central areas. Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott will most probably relish the prospect of going up against the direct, muscular force of Didier Drogba. But the twists, turns, flicks and clever movement of Mata could provide City's central defensive partnership with a similar headache to that which they experienced against Liverpool's Luis Suarez. Mata's pass completion rate in the Premier League is superior to Silva and he also has a better chance conversion record. Silva has created more chances and touches the ball on a more frequent basis. The key for Chelsea will be to get possession to their No.10 on as many occasions as possible and allow him to make space for others.