MANCHESTER City may be on the cusp of securing a fifth Premier League crown but since late January, Chelsea have matched them result for result and it’s fascinating to imagine the title race we might have enjoyed had Thomas Tuchel arrived in West London a lot sooner.
To illustrate how relentless both teams have been from his arrival we only need combine their form across all competitions, a spree of dominance which amounts to 35 games. Together City and Chelsea have won 28, drawn four, and lost on only three occasions.
Add in the fact that both shades of Blue have kept an astonishing 54 clean sheets between them all season long and it’s clear that there is very little to separate them going into this weekend’s FA Cup semi final at Wembley.
All of which suggests that an evenly weighted clash awaits us featuring the two best sides in English football and if that bodes well for neutrals tuning in, it’s less encouraging for those hoping to pick out a probable winner.
So it is that we turn to the usually reliable method of highlighting the key men whenever elite clubs meet in big games – the goal-scoring household names – and sure enough, a quick scan through previous semi-finals reveals a litany of lethal finishers who typically grab the headlines. From Aubameyang to Kane, they’re all present and on the score-sheet.
Only from the off we encounter a problem because Manchester City and Chelsea don’t really ‘do’ centre-forwards; not this season at least, with City’s arch-poacher Sergio Aguero largely absent through injury while Tammy Abraham and Timo Werner have each barely scraped double figures.
For both sides it is their attacking midfielders who have most made the difference and for the champions-elect Ilkay Gundogan has been a player transformed of late. Sixteen times he has ghosted into the box and converted chances this season and this is 42% of his total tally from five years in Manchester. As for Chelsea, Mason Mount was ticking along nicely prior to Tuchel’s appointment: progressing, developing, and impressing in equal measure. Now though the 22-year-old is adding goals to his arsenal. In his last ten appearances Mount has scored a goal every 185 minutes. Under Lampard, and during Tuchel’s opening few weeks, he was finding the net every 467 minutes.
Mason Mount's game by numbers for Chelsea vs. Palace:
100% take-ons completed
92% passing accuracy
7 accurate crosses
4 chances created
3 ball recoveries
Another sensational display. ✨ pic.twitter.com/bt6xOJ3IZV
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 10, 2021
It is ominous too for City that Christian Pulisic is finally free of niggles and strains and is flying right now with three goals in two league games but assessing the attacking talents of these tremendous sides can swiftly take us down a rabbit-hole, such is their wealth of options, so let’s stop there.
Instead, we should go back to the semi-finals of recent times because it could be argued that fixtures of this ilk tend to have an identity of their own. In the last ten years, the twenty meetings that Wembley has served up has averaged a healthy 3.4 goals per game with 64% of that bounty scored in the second period. Only 13% arrived in the opening 20 minutes as opponents size each other up.
What most jumps out from this back-catalogue however is the sheer number of comebacks we have witnessed. In just shy of a third of the semi-finals going back to 2011 the team who scored first went on to lose. Incidentally, only once did a game go to penalties so don’t be wary of backing your choice to conclude matters inside the ninety minutes.
Speaking of pens, it is reasonable to consider the possibility of Chelsea getting one at the weekend given that 30% of the goals City have conceded in the Premier League this term have come from spot-kicks. For their part, 23% of Chelsea’s goals under Tuchel have been slotted home from 12 yards.
Overall, looking for weaknesses in either of these tremendous creations is like trying to find a dodgy exhaust port in a Death Star minus any assistance from the Force. It will ultimately come down to fine margins and that 3.4 goal average from recent semi-finals may dip slightly as a consequence.
Switching our attention to Sunday’s clash so much of the narrative surrounds Leicester City, with Brendan Rodgers seeking his first silverware in English football since taking Swansea up via the Play-Offs in 2011. Is a trophy needed to define the superb work undertaken by the Northern Irishman during his time in the Midlands? If you believe so, then this might well be the Foxes’ best opportunity coming up against a Southampton side in mixed form.
That’s not to say that Leicester are in the finest fettle as their meek surrender to West Ham last week revealed but significantly what they have are goal-scorers and – as already stated – they are a priceless commodity in such meaningful games.
Jamie Vardy’s prowess has been proven time and again but as a huge bonus Kelechi Iheanacho has also come to the fore in recent weeks, finally fulfilling the promise he has long hinted at. The Nigerian frontman has bagged ten in his last eight starts.
Lastly, we should remember that this fixture regularly offers up comebacks. This is pertinent because the Saints have taken the lead in the Premier League on 15 occasions this season. They have gone on to lose or draw a little under half of them.