Talking Tactics

How will Maresca approach tactical battle with Guardiola?

By Adrian Clarke 21 Jun 2024
Maresca, Guardiola

Adrian Clarke looks at how Chelsea could be set up for their opening-weekend match against Man City

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After the release of the 2024/25 Premier League fixtures, Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical battles on the opening weekend.

Match analysis - Chelsea v Manchester City

The most intriguing tactical duel of the opening weekend is likely to take place at Stamford Bridge when Enzo Maresca goes up against his former boss Pep Guardiola.

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All eyes will be on Chelsea’s new head coach in anticipation of the strategic changes he makes to the side, with an express focus on how he sets his team up against Man City.

When guiding Leicester City to promotion last season, Maresca's approach was consistently compared to City, which should be no surprise.

The Italian won the Premier League 2 title with City’s Elite Development Squad in 2020/2021, and after a brief stint at Parma, he returned to become Guardiola’s assistant during the 2022/23 campaign.

Like-for-like styles

Moving away from a system that brought them tremendous success, City lined up in a 4-3-3 formation just once in last season’s Premier League.

While steering them to a fourth successive title, Guardiola preferred a 4-2-3-1 shape (20/38 matches), with 3-2-4-1 (9/38 matches) and 4-1-4-1 (7/38 matches) his chosen alternatives.

His former No 2 Maresca is cut from a similar cloth.

Maresca Man City
Enzo Maresca, second from left, had two spells working as a coach with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City

While he went with a 4-3-3 most regularly, Maresca showed he is not averse to starting in a 4-2-3-1 either.

In possession, when one of his full-backs inverted into central midfield, it freed the two No 8s to push forward, meaning the shape of Maresca’s Foxes side in essence became a 3-2-4-1.

This was of course the formation that helped City storm to top spot during the second half of the 2022/23 campaign when he worked alongside Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Maresca's favoured formations 2023/24
Formation Total
4-3-3  29
4-2-3-1 15
3-2-4-1 1
3-4-3 1

Depending on where the balance lies between Chelsea’s desire to control or contain City in Matchweek 1, we could easily see Maresca match up the visitors’ formation and effectively create 1v1s all over the pitch.

His coaching during pre-season will ensure his players are able to readily switch between those shapes.

A pressing battle

Both teams are almost certain to press hard when their opponents are playing out from the back.

Chelsea will hunt in packs and take any opportunities they can to unsettle City, and the same will apply at the other end.

It is a tactic which brought both managers tremendous success last season.

Regaining the ball in good areas through collective pressing, Leicester and Man City each topped their respective division’s rankings for goals scored from high turnovers.

Most goals from high turnovers 2023/24
Championship Total Premier League Total
Leicester 12 Man City 13
Blackburn 10 Newcastle 12
Hull 10 Spurs 10

Chelsea scored only five goals from high turnovers in 2023/24, so this is an area Maresca will target for improvement.

Playing this way against a press-resistant side like Man City comes with risk, but if there is any rustiness in Guardiola’s ranks, the hosts might be able to expose it.

Forward runs

Maresca and Guardiola were both in charge of possession-heavy teams who had to break down low blocks more often than not last season.

This is likely to be the case again this time around.

One tactic of paramount importance to both coaches is the use of forward runs from box-to-box midfielders that pierce the lines.

Playing two wingers that held their width, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was a key figure in this regard under Maresca at Leicester, arriving to support on the inside, finding space between full-backs and central defenders.

Cole Palmer will be one player asked to slip into those pockets of space and we know that City have enjoyed lots of success from these types of runs, particularly from Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

Look out for plenty of these bursts into those areas, and if either side switches off, or is slack at tracking those runs, they could find themselves in trouble.

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