Mens Team

City v Chelsea: The midfield battle

ON THE MOVE: Rodri takes the ball in training.
Pep Guardiola likes holding midfielders.

He was one during his playing days and it’s been a pivotal position in each of his team’s set-ups at City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

“The best ones play thinking about what the team needs in every single moment,” he said, to explain the role’s importance and on Saturday, when City face Chelsea, two of the best anchor men in the Premier League may come up against one another.

Given their firepower, much will be made of both side’s forward play but whether it's nullifying attacks or setting them up, you would suspect Rodrigo and Jorginho, two players Guardiola admires, will have an influence at the Etihad Stadium.

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It’s no secret Jorginho came close to joining City in the summer of 2018, before deciding to follow Maurizio Sarri to West London.

Guardiola revealed as much at the start of that season, saying: “Nothing to say but good luck at Chelsea. English football has an exceptional holding midfielder."

Rodrigo arrived in Manchester a year later and the boss has been suitably impressed with his start to life in England.

“I can assure you we have an incredible holding midfielder for the next decade,” he said during pre-season.

Praise aside, the stats also highlight both players importance in their respective tactical set-ups.

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Making themselves available to receive a pass and keeping the ball moving are central to the role and both the Spaniard and Italian lead their team for passes made in the Premier League.

They also have the highest tackle count of any City or Chelsea midfielders, which reinforces how valuable they can be to turning over possession and initiating the lightening-quick counter-attacks both sides love to execute.

Chelsea’s No.5, to his credit, edges Rodrigo in several areas.

He’s played one more Premier League game than the Spanish international and has recorded more through balls, blocks, interceptions and tackles.

However, Rodrigo boasts a higher completion rate and has so far proved more adept in the air.

In a squad not blessed with an abundance of tall players, it’s a trait Guardiola has acknowledged is important and the 23-year-old has certainly delivered.

It’s the area in which he exceeds Jorginho, making more clearances, more headed clearances and winning more aerial battles across his 10 Premier League games.

There are differences to their roles, both in terms of individual style and how each manager asks them to approach the position, but the overwhelming similarity is the responsibility they take for the side of the game which is often unseen and underappreciated.

Come Saturday, it may well be the goal scoring exploits of Sergio Aguero and Tammy Abraham which grab the headlines, but the former midfield management duo Guardiola and Frank Lampard will know their anchor men will be influential in how their teams perform.

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