As the Premier League enters the last stretch, what appeared to be a foregone conclusion and an easy title win for Chelsea, now has the potential to turn into an interesting title chase. The Blues’ loss to Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday has resulted in their lead being cut short to 7 points. One of the teams chasing them is Manchester City, sitting in fourth position, 11 points behind the leaders. The forthcoming set of midweek fixtures brings these two teams together as the Citizens travel to London to try and inflict a second consecutive home defeat on Chelsea.
But that is easier said than done, as City found out during their home game earlier during the season. This Chelsea side is brimming with confidence and will be refocused after their loss to Palace on the weekend. Even in that loss, Chelsea outperformed Palace almost on every metric, but for the number of goals scored. Although on Saturday Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said that he does not like to talk to his players immediately after a loss, he must have confronted them the next morning and drilled the importance of Wednesday’s game in their heads. If Chelsea keep their heads focused and play like they were playing before the last international break, they will be difficult to contain.
But if we were to draw a list of teams that can actually contain Chelsea, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City would feature quite high in that list. City possesses one of the few attacking lineups in the league that can trouble Chelsea’s backline – Palace’s aberration notwithstanding. Sergio Aguero does fancy playing Chelsea and has one of the better records against the Blues. Combined with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, Aguero does form a frightful partnership for any team to contend with. The Citizens’ troubles lie at the back, as highlighted by Arsenal in the draw at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. If they are to take any points back to Manchester, Guardiola will need to ensure that his midfield and defence play as well as his attackers.
- Chelsea haven’t lost back to back Premier League games at Stamford Bridge since November 2011 under Andre Villas-Boas. They have also not suffered back-to-back home defeats against Manchester City since December 1983
- Pep Guardiola has never previously lost both league games against a single opponent in a season as a manager in his career so far.
- Manchester City have lost just one of their last six Premier League games in London (W3 D2). Chelsea’s recent record against the Citizens is also a mixed bag having won 5, losing 7 and drawing 3 of the last fifteen league games against them.
- Antonio Conte hasn’t lost consecutive home league defeats as a manager since November 2009 while in charge of Atalanta.
Luiz had a forgettable game on Saturday as he was culpable for both of Palace goals. In fact since his brilliant performance against Liverpool in early February, the Brazilian has been mostly average, notching up three yellow cards in seven appearances. But if Chelsea are to keep City’s prolific attackers in check, Luiz will need to put in a top shift on Wednesday. In fact, before his woeful performance against Palace, in the away games against Stoke and West Ham, Luiz had indeed shown glimpses of the form Conte will be hoping for. Against Stoke in particular, Luiz managed to disrupt the Potters’ attacks regularly and start Chelsea’s own attacks with pin point passing accuracy. Such keenness in defence can cause problems for City’s attackers
The Argentine striker is the only current player in the league to have scored a hat-trick against the Blues at Stamford Bridge, which he did in this fixture last season. He also loves to score against Chelsea in general and in particular at the Bridge, as shown by six goals against the Blues and four at Stamford Bridge. Aguero put in a brilliant performance against Arsenal scoring City’s second goal. He also passed the ball around accurately and initiated presses quite high up the pitch with good tackles. Guardiola will be hoping that Aguero is able to maintain his form and can help City return from London with more than a point.
Chelsea will continue to miss Victor Moses, who will sit out this game as well due to a calf injury. This means Pedro should start at the right wing back position. Fabregas should also retain his position in the team at the expense of Matic, who was poor against Palace. Other than Moses, Conte should have his entire squad to call upon.
For Manchester City, Gundogan and Jesus will continue to sit out due to long term injuries. Bacary Sagna will also likely miss out as he too is doubtful. After being introduced at half time against Arsenal, Yaya Toure was not able to make the desired impact and could go back to the bench against Chelsea. Should Guardiola choose to mirror Conte’s 3-4-3, he would have Vincent Kompany available to partner Stones and Otamendi at the back.
The loss against Crystal Palace should have jolted Chelsea and should have helped them regain their focus on the title. A win on Wednesday can put Chelsea back on track as the favorites but a loss or even a draw can give hopes to the likes of Tottenham and even Liverpool. On the other hand, Manchester City do not really have a realistic shot at the title but they would want to make their top-four credentials stronger. Chelsea have more to lose from the game and have also received the most recent shock. Also, City’s defensive frailties this season have caused them a lot of grief. All these factors put together could lead to a narrow home win for Chelsea.
Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City