Football

An EFL Cup Final Preview

This weekend will see Chelsea take on Manchester City for the often underrated EFL Cup. Both sides will go in search of their sixth League Cup win at Wembley on Sunday, while City manager Pep Guardiola is also seeking his third major cup during his time at the Etihad Stadium.

Rather than anticipating a close and keenly-contested final, however, most pundits are expecting City to sweep aside Maurizio Sarri’s struggling Chelsea side. This is reflected by the odds, with the Manchester club quoted at a price of 1/2 by most bookies ahead of the final.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at this match-up and see which side is most likely to prevail in front of 80,000 spectators.

The Form Book – Why City are Favourites

In many ways, it’s Chelsea’s recent form and struggles that have governed the prices presented by UK bookmakers.

After a stellar start to the season that saw the Blues go undefeated for 18 matches until November, the much-vaunted “Sarri-ball” philosophy has failed as Chelsea have become increasingly ineffective at both ends of the pitch.

This has been borne during the Blue’s recent run of games, which have seen them lose three of their last five outings in all competitions and ship a troubling 13 goals in the process. At the same time, they’ve only scored seven goals during these matches, with five of these coming in a single game against the Premier League’s bottom club Huddersfield.

Chelsea’s limp surrender at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round seemed to embody the club’s obvious attacking and defensive deficiencies, while the club’s fans were mocking the increasingly forlorn Sarri and calling for his dismissal long before the end of the game.

In contrast, City’s recent form has been incredible, as they’ve clawed back a seven-point deficit to Liverpool at the top of the EPL and remained in contention for all four major honours.

Including their nail-biting win against Liverpool on January 3rd, City have won 12 and lost just one of their last 13 outings in all competitions, while Guardiola’s free-flowing side have scored a staggering 49 goals during this run. This included a 10-0 aggregate win against Burton Albion in the EFL Cup semi-final, which highlighted the increasingly ruthless nature of City’s attackers in front of goal.

The Recent Head-to-head Record – Does This Provide Comfort to the Blues?

It’s interesting to note that these two sides also clashed in the Premier League at the Etihad stadium less than two weeks ago, with City romping to a 6-0 win in front of Chelsea’s stunned away contingent.

In fact, the Blues were blown away by four goals in the first 25 minutes by City’s marauding forwards, before Sergio Aguero’s second-half penalty and a late Raheem Sterling goal sealed Chelsea’s worst defeat since a 7-0 reversal at Nottingham Forest in April 1991.

This is one of four wins that City have recorded in their last five matches against Chelsea, dating back to September 2017. During this time City have scored 10 goals and conceded just two, with both of these coming in the Blue’s single 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

Even this game saw the Blues outplayed for long periods by a slick and stylish City, although Chelsea’s resilience and ruthlessness on the counter-attack should at least provide some source of comfort ahead of the Wembley clash this weekend.

The Last Word – Who Will Prevail at Wembley?

The last few weeks have been truly disastrous for Sarri, who has seen his side struggle manfully on the pitch while admitting that he’s been unable to motivate his notoriously temperamental team following a 4-0 thrashing at Bournemouth at the end of January.

Of course, it would be typical of the club’s recent history for the Blues to upset the odds and defeat City at Wembley, with the side having carved out a deserved reputation for digging deep and snatching unlikely wins in big games ever since the first managerial tenure of Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho.

To achieve this, however, Sarri will have to somehow unify his side and restore their confidence after a series of morale-sapping defeats, while using the 2-0 league win in December as a tactical blueprint for how they can nullify City and inflict damage on the counter-attack.

Sarri will also have to deal with the obvious vulnerability in his side’s midfield, with Jorginho clearly being targeted by opposition players and the Italian international struggling with the pace of the English game.

All-in-all, this seems like too much of a leap for an increasingly frustrated and famously intransigent Sarri, particularly against the smooth, formidable and well-oiled machine that is Manchester City. With this in mind, we can only see one result on Sunday, with the size of City’s winning margin likely to be the most interesting betting market for punters.

 

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