Men's Team

Nedum Onuoha: Dias v Lukaku an exciting match-up

Nedum Onuoha: Dias v Lukaku an exciting match-up
Nedum Onuoha believes we could see one of the most exciting battles in the Premier League when Manchester City face Chelsea on Saturday afternoon.

There will be world class talent all over the pitch when two of the favourites for the title meet at Stamford Bridge, but Onuoha feels Ruben Dias and Romelu Lukaku could provide the most intriguing match-up.

Dias is one of the best centre-backs in the game, whilst Chelsea’s summer signing is one of the deadliest marksmen in Europe and will be hoping he can be as impactful as the Portugal international was last season.

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Lukaku will no doubt provide a stern test for Dias and the City defence but Onuoha says he is looking forward to how the duel unfolds.

“I think it definitely could be [one of the best battles in the Premier League],” he told mancity.com.

“But if you focus too much on that you forget about their other threats. Chelsea aren’t a one man team. I think to try and limit Lukaku gives you a chance, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will win the game.

“Dias and whoever is going to be playing back there, they know they are playing against one of the best strikers in the world, so they know you have to be at your best for the whole game to give yourself the best opportunity.

“It is going to be exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing how he does.”

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Onuoha has first-hand experience of trying to stop Lukaku.

He faced him four times in his career, keeping a clean sheet when his Queens Park Rangers side beat West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup whilst the Belgian was on loan at The Hawthorns in 2012-13.

Our former defender turned Matchday Live pundit acknowledges the 28-year-old has reached new heights since then.

He considers Lukaku to be a striker of multiple threats, with his ability to score off both feet, his penalty box instincts and his pace, strength and aerial prowess making him the sort of player who requires you to raise your game.

“When I played against him, his strength was an obvious attribute, but the other thing was that he is incredibly fast and he is not scared to use it,” he explained.

“If he senses space, he will make a run and in that Chelsea team there are tonnes of players who can play him in.

“One thing he has gained over the years is a huge sense of confidence. He plays better with his back to goal now and he is a good finisher on both feet.

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“He understands his role, stays higher and off the back of that he is good at being able to sniff out chances and being in the right area at the right time.

“It seems really obvious, but not everyone does it and that’s why some people score more than others, because they always put themselves into the areas where they know the service will come and they make runs where they know they can have a big influence on the game.

“If there’s a ball coming into the box, he is going to be there and if there is a chance to run into the channel, he is going to do it. If there is space for a cut back, he will be looking for it.

“That is because he has a high football IQ and, with the physical attributes he has, you know you’ll have to perform better than against other strikers in the league.”

Chelsea, of course, will be particularly wary of the attacking threat posed by Pep Guardiola’s men and, for all Lukaku’s strengths, he faces an unenviable task against a City defence who boasted the best record in the Premier League in 2020-21.

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They will be marshalled by last season’s Player of the Season in Dias and, whilst Onuoha thinks the Portuguese will know he is in for a tough afternoon, he also knows there are ways for him to gain the upper hand.

“Don’t let him back into you because then he is control and the way Chelsea play they look for him in those instances,” he added.

“Maybe you give him half a yard. He can still have his back to goal, but he won’t be moving you where he wants to because he has to manipulate the ball.

“Maybe instead of showing him onto his left foot you show him onto his right because, whilst he is a good finisher on his right, he is a great finisher on his left.

“When balls are coming into the box, you need to be touch tight, because if he gets ahead of steam he has got the chance to move where he wants and then there is good chance he is going to finish.

“When you go into those games it’s about understanding what makes certain players create and then seeing if you can take that away.

“It doesn’t mean they won’t score, but you make them earn the right to score.”

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Chelsea have had the upper hand in the recent meetings between the two sides, having emerged victorious in each of the last three fixtures.

That includes wins in last season’s FA Cup semi-final and the Champions League final to deny City a historic treble.

They are defeats that could well provide extra motivation this time around, but rather than dwell on the past Onuoha is confident Guardiola’s men will be focused on making an early statement of intent in the new campaign.

“When they see Chelsea, they will have to remember how last season finished,” he said.

“There is no escaping that, but they will understand that this is a different game in a new year and this is a big game and a chance to go out, catch Chelsea and be tied on points with them.

“Even though it is very early in the season, a win would feel like a significant amount of momentum and it will prove a point.

“They know they are good enough to beat Chelsea, but they have not done so the last three times.

“They will have confidence because they are the ones that are in control because they know they are good enough as Premier League champions.

“That’s what Chelsea are striving for, but for City you could argue it is an expectation.”

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