Guardiola and Tuchel square off in FA Cup semi-final. Bryan Naicker previews.
If a coach is only as good as his players, Tuchel and Guardiola are absolutely brilliant, with both sides in this high stakes encounter boasting some of the best talent available, supplemented with ample depth in each squad, as footballers of equally top-notch quality are brought off the bench to finish off the task at hand, if needed.
It’s the final before the final as many would call it. One thing is for sure, we’re set for an intriguing contest as silverware is within touching distance. Expect both sets of players to leave everything on the pitch for the all-important FA Cup final berth.
FA Cup Semi-final | Saturday 17 April | Wembley Stadium | 18:30
To Win Match
Manchester City 15/20
Tuchel will relish the opportunity to face Guardiola and he’s made it no secret that he is a massive admirer of the Spanish mentor. In Tuchel’s opinion, and by popular consensus of us fans, Guardiola changed the face of football during his time at Barcelona, by dominating the possession of the ball, while encouraging his players to win back possession within seconds of losing it.
Pep’s Barca is the benchmark for Tuchel, however, when the first whistle is blown at 18:30, all respect will be put aside for 90 minutes as the German tactician seeks his first win over Guardiola in his sixth attempt.
All five of the previous meetings took place in Germany, with their final showdown closely resembling this clash when Bayern Munich narrowly beat Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund 4-3 in the 2016 DFB-Pokal final.
In the earlier rounds of the FA Cup, clubs have rotated their players, but now the business end is upon us and both sides are expected to field their strongest line-ups. Controversial goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has played every FA Cup match for the Blues and it remains to be seen if Tuchel could trust the Spaniard in a game of this magnitude.
Personally, I’d start Edouard Mendy. Prior to the midweek clash with Porto, the Senegalese shot-stopper impressively kept nine clean sheets in 15 appearances under Tuchel.
To beat a Guardiola coached team, your goalkeeper has to be one of the best players on the park together with a capable back line. Thiago Silva will return from suspension after seeing red in the Premier League defeat to West Brom, which was Chelsea’s first game conceding at Stamford Bridge during Tuchel’s tenure as Blues boss.
Manchester City were ousted by both Manchester United and Leeds United in the last month, removing the Sky Blues’ sense of invincibility, but Guardiola’s troops are still, by head and shoulders, the best team England has to offer.
Rotation will be out of the question as the gamble against Leeds definitely didn’t work out last weekend. Expect Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan to return in the heart of midfield alongside Rodri.
Nathan Ake, Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko will give way to City’s best defenders, while there’s an opportunity for outgoing striker Sergio Aguero to make a final appearance for the Citizens at Wembley.
Aymeric Laporte is the only injury doubt for City, with a host of top-quality talents to choose from playing ahead of De Bruyne and Gundogan in the top half of the pitch, all raring to go for their opportunity to make history.
On the road, City have kept five straight clean sheets, however, this will be put under heavy scrutiny by the likes of Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz.
These three attackers have their distinctive strengths that they bring to the table and each are capable of penetrating the high line that City usually deploy. Surely, trying to contain the hottest property in world football, Erling Haaland in midweek UEFA Champions League action will take its toll on City’s defenders.
Although Gundogan has been in imperious form, possibly the best of his career, the player to stop from a Chelsea perspective will be De Bruyne. The Belgian talisman has faced his former club 12 times, scoring on four occasions but pulls all the strings to create havoc that leads to his teammates finding the net.
De Bruyne is so important that if he is somehow ruled out, I suggest you have a punt on a Chelsea victory confidently.
Route to the semi-finals:
4-0 (H) – Morecambe
3-1 (H) – Luton Town
0-1 (A) – Barnsley
2-0 (H) – Sheffield United
3-0 (H) – Birmingham City
1-3 (A) – Cheltenham Town
1-3 (A) – Swansea City
0-2 (A) – Everton
Verdict: Chelsea to Qualify 2/1
Considering Tuchel’s fond admiration for Guardiola, it will give him an upper hand compared to the rest of the managers in the league. The German closely studied Guardiola’s Barca team which inspired him to also be fearless in his role as a coach, as well as getting to watch the Spaniard’s Bayern Munich team closely in the Bundesliga while Tuchel was in charge of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. If there’s anyone who could possibly knock City out, we’re staring at the ideal candidate. My play is Chelsea To Qualify at 2/1.