x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Men in the middle will decide Club World Cup final

Ahead of Sunday's Club World Cup final between Corinthians and Chelsea, Jonathan Wilson looks at three key areas where the game may be won and lost.

With the arrival of Paolo Guerrero, centre,  Brazil's Corinthians have changed from an unusual 4-2-2-2 attack to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1 formation.
With the arrival of Paolo Guerrero, centre, Brazil's Corinthians have changed from an unusual 4-2-2-2 attack to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1 formation.

Jonathan Wilson looks at three key areas where the game could be won and lost, and points out that it may well come down to the men in the middle for both sides:

 

Guerrero v Ivanovic

When Corinthians won the Copa Libertadores earlier in the year, they tended to play a 4-2-2-2 with the front two of Jorge Henrique and Emerson often drifting wide, effectively creating a strikerless system that was both difficult for opposing defences to combat but also meant that Corinthians could pin in the opposing full-backs, something that was vital to their fine defensive record.

Since then, they have signed the powerful Peruvian forward Paulo Guerrero from Hamburg and that has meant a switch to a less radical 4-2-3-1.

Guerrero proved at the Copa America last year that he does not need much in the way of service to be effective, and while Corinthians will certainly attempt to play through midfield to him, he does offer an outlet if they find themselves under pressure.

Muscular and physically aggressive, Guerrero will presumably be picked up by Branislav Ivanovic, allowing Gary Cahill to operate as the more ball-playing centre-back.

Moving Ivanovic into the middle from right-back was one of Rafa Benitez's first moves on taking the Chelsea job and the signs are than he and Cahill are beginning to form a solid partnership - or at least a partnership more solid than that of Cahill and David Luiz.

 

Douglas v David Luiz

David Luiz seemed so natural at the back of the midfield in Chelsea's win over Monterrey that you wonder why nobody has tried playing him there before.

He has always been a physically imposing presence, capable of eating up the ground, and playing a little farther forward means his occasional lapses of concentration are less of a concern, and he has more licence to attempt the spins and surges that always induced panic when he did them from centre-back.

Playing at the back of midfield still demands discipline, of course, but if he has Mikel John Obi - or perhaps Ramires - alongside him, he does have more freedom.

And he seems to fit Benitez's thinking: Benitez has always liked a passer and a runner as his deep-lying midfield partnership - think Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano - and while David Luiz may not be in Xabi's class as a distributor he offers a greater range of passing than either Ramires or Mikel.

Benitez did seem to be trying Oriol Romeu in the role and in the long term he may still be the preferred option, but while he recovers from a serious knee injury David Luiz seems a worthy stand-in.

In the final, he will be up against his compatriot Douglas, an intelligent left-footed playmaker.

 

Paulinho v Oscar

Corinthians' real strength on their way to Libertadores success was the back of their midfield, where Paulinho and Ralf provided a solid barrier that was also tidy in possession.

Ralf, at 28, is the older of the two and occasionally bursts forward to add an extra angle to the attack, but it is the 24-year-old Paulinho who is the more hyped.

Classy on the ball, he was linked with move to Inter Milan in the summer and, although his contract runs till 2015 - with a release clause of £12 million (Dh71.2m) - he has said he intends to move to Italy at some point.

It is likely to be the more defensive side of his game that is tested today, though, as he and Ralf try to stifle their fellow Brazilian, Oscar.

When the 21 year old joined Chelsea in the summer it was generally expected that he would take a few months to settle to the pace of the English game but he has become a regular already, impressing not only with his imagination and his technical ability but also with his tactical intelligence.

Against Juventus at Stamford Bridge, he did not just score twice, the second featuring a brilliantly innovative turn, but he also effectively neutralised Andrea Pirlo.

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