Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel

Dreaming of Champions League and FA Cup glory this season? One set of fans will be disappointed on Saturday night as UCL semi-finalists Chelsea and Manchester City face off in a cracking FA Cup semi-final.

Arguably the toughest test of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea reign so far, City take their quadruple hopes and record of one FA Cup final in eight years against the Blues who have made the new Wembley their second home down the years. 

Chelsea aim to win their fourth FA Cup semi-final in five seasons and go one better than their runner-up place last season. A 15th final would take them third on the all-time list.

The winner here will be confident of a Cup win, with Leicester or Southampton waiting on the other side of the draw. 

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The showpiece tie of the semis also extends its fireworks to the dugouts.

Pep Guardiola takes on Tuchel in a sequel to their Der Klassiker battles from the Bundesliga. Their last two meetings in the 2015/16 season ended in 0-0 stalemates. 

The former Bayern Munich boss is unbeaten in all five meetings with Tuchel’s Mainz and Dortmund – winning three and drawing two – but the German commands plenty of respect. Hence, a tactical battle awaits the Wembley turf. The game is 3.50 to end in a draw and go to extra time

Guardiola and his Barcelona side were a “big influence” on the coaching philosophy of Tuchel and it is easy to see why. The ex-BVB boss has instilled free-flowing attacking sequences and a dogged defensive unit at Chelsea, this meeting could be the first of three mammoth clashes in three competitions till next month, should the possibility of an all-English Champions League final come true.

Despite remaining solid throughout Tuchel’s short reign so far, the Blues conceded five to West Brom in a bizarre game and look vulnerable to crosses. Although they restricted the barrage of aerial balls to two shots against Porto, Pep’s men pose an entirely different threat (but still have KDB’s wicked deliveries handy).

False nine vs False nine?

The similarities between the Spaniard and his German counterpart run beyond their obsessive meticulousness and quest for absolute control. 

Guardiola has long been the pioneer of the modern-day false nine and is steering City to this season’s Premier League title without a recognized striker. However, his old adversary is also settling with Kai Havertz as his trusted roaming forward having handed him six starts from the last eight games. 

Tuchel also has the luxury of calling upon the pace of Timo Werner against the Cityzens’ high line, Olivier Giroud’s experience and Wembley expertise, or a hungry Tammy Abraham who has six goals and three assists in seven FA Cup starts. 

Choking the wide areas will be important for Chelsea as Guardiola’s men like to operate in the half-spaces, the wing-backs and wide centre-backs need to be diligent while the midfield duo track Kevin de Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan’s deadly runs forward. 

City’s front three – much like Chelsea’s version – are comfortable interchanging positions and finding spaces, with the false nine often arriving in the box to cause damage after dizzying interplay. 

Tuchel is without 2019/20 Chelsea Player of The Year Mateo Kovačić with a hamstring injury and will miss the Croatian’s ball-playing skills against City’s suffocating press. Instead, N’golo Kanté and the in-form Jorginho would be entrusted with squeezing the space for City to operate. 

A spot will then open up for Billy Gilmour whose only minutes under Tuchel have come in the FA Cup. The Scottish teenager is not expected to start but has a memorable FA Cup showing versus Liverpool under his belt and would be chomping at the opportunity for any playing minutes at Wembley. 

Clash of the English Wunderkids

Mason Mount and Phil Foden will sensationally battle in midfield and this matchup of young English talents threatens to decide this fixture.

Phil Foden
Phil Foden celebrating his glorious second-leg winner against BVB. (Reuters)

Foden scored the winner in both legs of City’s quarter-final ties against Borussia Dortmund while Mount pulled Chelsea’s opener against Porto out of nowhere in the first leg. 

The 22-year old is Chelsea’s best player this season and keeps impressing with his leadership and quality on and off the ball. On the other hand, Foden is the front-runner for the Premier League’s Young Player of The Year (although Mount will have something to say about that).

Mount is 5.91 to find the back of the net.

Both in-form attacking midfielders could feature in England’s starting 11 at the summer’s European Championship and this Cup semifinal is set up for either to light up the National Stadium. 

Par for the course, Mount scored the important second in their 3-1 win over Man United in last year’s semi-final, and his 20-year-old counterpart will want in on the glory. 

There will be no fans in attendance for Saturday’s tie, but with two sophisticated tactical minds in charge and the country’s very best young talents on show. This FA Cup semifinal could prelude future tussles for the biggest honours.

Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin
April 16, 2021
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Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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