The 'holistic' safety net at Man City is set for defining test in Kevin De Bruyne absence

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Out for three months: Kevin De Bruyne.

An illuminating spell for the expansive – and expensive – Manchester City project begins on Sunday against Huddersfield Town.

All the work of City Football Group has revolved around the tenet of making the Premier League champions the complete outfit. From never relenting in the ultimately successful chase for revolutionary head coach Pep Guardiola, to regenerating an 80-acre site for the unrivalled City Football Academy and unmatched spending of more than £1.2 billion (Dh5.6bn) on transfers during a near decade of ownership.

This “holistic approach”, as described in 2013’s press release which announced Manuel Pellegrini’s hiring as boss, was designed to ensure success on the pitch is not dictated by the fortunes of just one man. Thoughtful design and supporting investment to match has, supposedly, ensured constituent parts combine to cover any short-term weakness.

But beyond even Guardiola’s vision and CFG’s largesse, an influential talent without match went down this week.

Damage to Kevin De Bruyne’s lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his right knee should sideline the Belgium midfielder for three months.

This is a performer of optimal tactical importance, blessed with refined ability. If City can maintain their historic standards in his absence, an entire philosophy gains validation.

De Bruyne’s combination of grace, vision and adaptability gave Guardiola a solution to turn the teething problems of 2016/17’s debut campaign into the ensuing historic march to top-flight glory. His move to make the 27-year-old a deep-lying playmaker sparked the epochal run which saw records tumble for most wins, points and goals.

The £55 million (Dh314.6m) addition from Wolfsburg in August 2015 would provide incisive throughballs in the middle to circumvent stacked opponents, plus feather these passes into the feet of Spain’s David Silva and Co. with heavenly weight. If this rarefied tact didn’t work, punishing accuracy from set-pieces would instead break the deadlock.

In De Bruyne’s expected absence until November, rich additions such as Monaco’s Bernardo Silva, Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan and Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez – procured this July for a club-record £60m (Dh281.1m) – should pick up the creative slack.

If immediate solutions do not work, then further ballast comes from an Academy calibrated to produce first-team additions that meet Guardiola’s exacting demands. Teenager Phil Foden – an unused substitute in the opening 2-0 victory at Arsenal – is cast as the great hope.

Even with plentiful solutions available, De Bruyne’s determining impact is startlingly clear.

The ex-Chelsea player has failed to start just 23 Premier League matches since he joined the Blues. A similar problem suffered in January 2016 when Pellegrini was in control saw two wins, one draw and four losses suffered before his return that April.

Under Guardiola, De Bruyne’s only been absent from the XI on seven occasions – just two of these came in 2017/18’s imperious victory march.

In league matches with him in the starting side, City’s win percentage is 64.8 per cent (59 wins from 91 matches). When he does not take to the pitch from kick-off, this drops slightly to 60 per cent.

Possession also falls from 66 per cent to 61.4 per cent and points per game from 2.2 to 1.9. Average goals for/against with him of 2.3/0.9 degenerates to 1.8/1.2.

Since his return to British shores with City, no one has bettered his tally of 43 assists.

Freshly returned from vacation after Belgium’s run to third place at World Cup, De Bruyne was given the final half hour of City’s masterclass at Emirates Stadium.

Only profligacy prevented a higher score being run up on Gunners boss Unai Emery’s fitful debut.

With David Silva out of the match-day squad, it was left to namesake Bernardo and Gundogan to carry the playmaking responsibilities. They responded in fine fashion, helped by the alacrity of England forward Raheem Sterling.

Such weapons should have no problem dispensing with a Huddersfield side who looked every inch relegation candidates during an opening 3-0 home reversal to Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea.

Comfort minus De Bruyne will be harder to find at Liverpool on October 7 and Tottenham on October 28, plus at home to Manchester United on November 11.

Still, City have taken every step to ensure these hurdles are cleared even if De Bruyne is missing.

A safety net without peer – in theory, at least. Now, comes the practice.

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How Maurizio Sarri devised Chelsea's plan to beat Arsenal 3-2 in London derby

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Marcos Alonso’ late strike saw Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-2 in the London derby at Stamford Bridge.

Maurizio Sarri’s side took a 2-0 lead before the visitors drew level before the end of the first half.

Pedro slotted home in the ninth minute and Alvaro Morata scored the second 11 minutes later.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan got one back in the 37th minute for the away side before Alex Iwobi restored parity in the 41st minute.

However, Chelsea bounced back , dominating the second half before Alonso finished off substitute Eden Hazard’s pass in the 81st minute.

Here’s a look at how Sarri won the tactical battle with Unai Emery.

BASIC STATS

Goals – 3

Shots – 24

Possession – 62%

Tackles – 15

Dribbles – 11

30-SECOND REPORT

‘Sarri Ball’ is definitely taking shape. There were several encouraging aspects from this performance, their slick passing and clever movement certainly topping that list.

Jorginho orchestrated Chelsea’s build-up play from the middle of the park as the hosts maintained a high-line and regularly looked to pick out runs in behind Arsenal’s defence, leading to goals for Sarri’s side.

N’Golo Kante in particular was key in enforcing Chelsea’s high-press, forcing Arsenal defenders into mistakes. However, once the visitors got past that line of pressure, they were allowed to cause the Blues problems of their own with Sarri’s side woefully short of cover in the defensive third, frequently falling victim to overloads on the flanks.

Marcos Alonso made the difference.

Marcos Alonso made the difference.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Threat in behind

Arsenal also employed a high line and were drawn even higher when they were left chasing shadows during Chelsea’s spells of possession. That meant the ball in behind the defence was on and the hosts were successful in their efforts to utilise that on a few occasions.

They scored twice in that fashion with Alonso bursting into space beyond the back line ahead of Morata did the same later on.

Alvaro Morata got in behind for Chelsea's second

Alvaro Morata got in behind for Chelsea’s second.

VERDICT

It’s still a work in progress but Chelsea fans will be very pleased with what they saw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

There were some glaring shortcomings at the back and those will need to be addressed quickly but there was sufficient dominance on the ball and penetration in attack to suggest the Blues are moving in the right direction.

Rating 8/10

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Unai Emery finds Chelsea's weakness but poor set-up costs Arsenal in London derby

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Marcos Alonso’ late strike saw Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-2 in the London derby at Stamford Bridge.

Maurizio Sarri’s side took a 2-0 lead before the visitors drew level before the end of the first half.

Pedro slotted away in the ninth minute and Alvaro Morata scored the second 11 minutes later.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan got one back in the 37th minute for the away side before Alex Iwobi restored parity in the 44th minute.

However, Chelsea bounced back , dominating the second half before Alonso finished off substitute Eden Hazard’s pass in the 81st minute.

Here’s a look at how Unai Emery lost the tactical battle with Sarri.

BASIC STATS

Goals – 2

Shots – 15

Possession – 38%

Tackles – 14

Dribbles – 5

30-SECOND REPORT

Emery stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation and unsurprisingly saw his side struggle to cope with the high-press as they attempted to play the ball out from the back, just as they did against Manchester City last weekend. That gave Chelsea the upper hand in the early exchanges and allowed them to pick Arsenal off by exploiting their high-line.

However, after going two goals down, Emery engineered a way back into the game as they regularly created big chances towards the end of the first half. After restoring parity though, they lost their way in the closing stages and suffered defeat.

Unai Emery

Unai Emery

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Overloads

Emery would like to see his side dominate possession but they aren’t quiet as commanding on the ball yet and against Chelsea, were always second best in that regard. The former Paris Saint-Germain boss though noticed Aubameyang getting in behind Chelsea rather comfortably a couple of times when he peeled wide and quickly identified that as the home team’s weakness.

He proceeded to instruct his full-backs to get forward down the flanks and the attacking midfielders to support them with late runs behind the opposition’s full-backs, creating an overload in wide areas. The Gunners were regularly afforded time and space to get to the byline and cut passes back, which is where their goals came from.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan got Arsenal back into it.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan got Arsenal back into it.

VERDICT

Emery got several things wrong in the way he set up his side. The double-pivot, while intended to offer a sturdier defensive structure, was not able to provide enough out balls for defenders in possession. Meanwhile, the persistence with Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka was puzzling as both were poor against City.

Meanwhile, Lucas Torreira was left on the bench and once again came off it and impressed. Emery missed a trick in not deploying Aaron Ramsey to shadow Jorginho who had the freedom of Stamford Bridge to dictate play. He must be given credit for identifying Chelsea’s weakness and effectively attacking it.

Rating – 6/10

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