The 2017 FA Cup semis features four of the top clubs in England.
If you cannot have the Cinderella runs that have made the FA cup so great, a second-best option would be to feature top English talent. Four of the top clubs in England will battle in late April at Wembley for a spot in the FA Cup final. Both matchups pose interesting story lines, and with Arsenal and City eliminated from UCL competition, these four teams will be focusing all their efforts in this cup since Chelsea has all but wrapped up the league. Winning the FA Cup is the only chance for Spurs, City, and Arsenal to salvage something from this season. Here are some things to look forward to in these exciting ties.
Chelsea vs. Spurs
Chelsea has not lost often this season; in fact, their only defeat in 2017 came on their first game of the new year when Spurs handled them 2-0 at White Hart Lane. Chelsea seemed out of sorts and were not equipped to handle Pochettino’s tactics and formation changes. Up to the point where Chelsea lost to Spurs, no team had figured how to matchup against Conte’s 3-4-3, until Pochettino, sent out an attacking team sheet that matched the same formation. Chelsea has not tinkered with their lineup since early September and their wing backs of Alonso and Moses have been sensational along with box-to-box midfielders of Matic and Kante controlling the pace of play. Their formation allows their creators like Pedro and Hazard to get space and to cut in and create their own chances or link up with Costa. With Moses and Alonso getting forward, there is usually a numbers mismatch, and they track back defensively very well. Let’s take a look at how Spurs took out Chelsea.
Spurs matched like for like playing a 3-4-3 of their own pushing Walker and Rose to the wings. Their three forwards included Dele and Eriksen, who sat closer to the midfield, and Kane was the focal point. This formation change was vital to earn the result, and both Walker and Rose won their respective matchups against the lethal Chelsea wing backs. Walker and Rose have tremendous pace going forward and flooded the box with crosses.
It’s no secret that Kane and Dele will have to be on their game to get a result. Kane, who is currently injured with ligament damage in his ankle, has a timetable of recovery that finishes close to the match date. Without Kane, Chelsea really should not have much to worry about. That being said, Dele is a tremendous talent and poses real issues for Chelsea defensively.
In January, Pochettino’s game plan was rather simple but incredibly effective: aerial service from right to left exposing Azpilicueta and Moses on the back post. Both goals were essentially identical in that match, and both were well calculated. Azpilicueta, a natural fullback, plays in a central role for Chelsea and may be the only weakness of the back line. At a meager 5’10”, he is susceptible to giving up dangerous headers, and Moses is not the greatest aerial defender being 5’10” as well. Moses occasionally leaves Azpilicueta exposed at the back since he presses high, and this is the weak spot of the Chelsea defense. Pochettino found this weakness and Dele found holes in between the two of them, winning critical headers that resulted in goals.
Spurs also had a ton of success pressing high and playing fast off the turnover. They won the middle of the park which is unusual given how solid Chelsea has been in the midfield, but Spurs will need to control the midfield and take Kante out of the game to have a legitimate shot. Spurs also neutralized Diego Costa, which they will have to do again to get a result. Their system was very high risk-high reward, but it paid off and caught Chelsea off guard. Spurs are certainly the underdogs, but they have the players to earn a result. I expect both teams to play cautiously and to see a real tactical battle between both managers. This would favor Chelsea.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-0 Spurs
Arsenal vs. Manchester City
One semifinal features two teams that pride themselves on defense and clean sheets, while the other features two teams are in shambles defensively and rely on offense to win games. While City has the upper hand and has won the most recent battle, Arsenal will have to look back to previous years to find a way to beat City. In 2015 and 2016, Arsenal earned impressive league victories against City in anti-Arsenal style. They did not have a majority of possession, they did not have as many chances, but they were clinical and ruthless on the counter. There are two ways Arsenal can get a result against City.
1) Sit deep and counter. Leicester employed a similar strategy to Pep’s team earlier this season and absolutely demolished them. City can be frivolous at times with possession so Arsenal must pounce quickly with their speedy forwards. This is a dangerous effort since City is excellent at wearing teams down and they have boatloads of talent going forward and on the wings. Arsenal has struggled defensively and this strategy would require a miraculous shift in play to keep City off the board.
2) Arsenal can press extremely high and take their chances. This would leave them more exposed at the back, but in a game where there will likely be multiple goals, this risk seems worth it. The risk with this is maintaining the high energy for all 90 minutes, and City have been experts in possession, which Arsenal seem to struggle without, especially this season. Earlier this year, Arsenal employed a high energy press against City and after going up early, City whittled down the Arsenal defense and dominated play to earn a 2-1 result. Both teams desperately need the FA Cup and especially Arsene Wenger, who will need another piece of silverware to retain his position. However, Arsenal has not had a favorable result against a top English club this season, and City looks like too much to handle.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-2 Arsenal
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