Chelsea will be looking to beat the odds to do the double over Manchester City in the Premier League for the second time in three years. They were excellent during the first meeting between the two clubs and indicated that they have the quality to compete at the top end of the table. However, their inconsistency since that fixture has left supporters and the media both questioning Maurizio Sarri. The Italian would benefit from a strong showing this weekend against Pep Guardiola’s men. For the home side, the pressure is building around their title fight and this is a game that they will want to win in order to send a statement out to Liverpool.
Manchester City haven’t been able to defend a title in the Premier League era and that fact will be on the minds of all their supporters. They have played twice since Chelsea last stepped out on to the field and that could be a factor that counts this weekend. There will likely be more rotation from Guardiola, but he will admit that the previous seven days weren’t the perfect preparation for a huge game like this one. These two teams are also scheduled to meet later this month in the final of the Carabao Cup, therefore this weekend will give a good indication of who will be the favourites heading into that fixture.
Unlike their hosts, Chelsea will not be competing in a title race this season. There was early hope that they could manage to do that, but recent results have shown the problems that exist within the squad. Sarri has openly criticised the attitude of the squad and he will be looking for a reaction against one of the best teams in Europe. They managed to win the earlier meeting between the two clubs and they can take confidence from that, albeit it will be a bigger challenge away from home. Last weekend, the Blues ran rampant against Huddersfield, but this weekend will be more telling about where they are at under Sarri.
- Manchester City have scored with their first shot on target in 15 Premier League matches. This is six more times than any other team has managed.
- Last weekend, N’Golo Kante provided two assists in a single match for the first time in his top-flight career.
The quick-footed winger was taken out of the starting eleven to face Everton during the week, which suggests that he will be playing from the start against Chelsea. There are few more talented players than the Englishman and his game has reached new levels under Pep Guardiola. Last weekend, he played a key role in the victory over Arsenal, as he caused them lots of problems down the left wing. It isn’t his usual position, but he was effective at getting in behind the full-back to provide the service for Sergio Aguero. Although he can pose a direct goal threat, Sterling isn’t a selfish player and his willingness to create chances for his team-mates has allowed him to play a starring role for the club during the last two or three years. Chelsea are vulnerable at the back and they won’t be looking forward to going up against the England international. This season, the 24-year-old has contributed ten goals and nine assists in the Premier League this season. Furthermore, he averages 2.3 key passes and 2.7 dribbles per game. He will be a threat on Sunday.
The Argentine striker was the biggest name signing made by a Premier League club during the January transfer window. Higuain immediately solves a major tactical issue for Sarri, as he provides a physical and dangerous presence in the centre forward position. Neither Olivier Giroud nor Alvaro Morata had done enough to impress the Italian coach during the first half of the season. As a world-class striker, the incoming 31-year-old provides a huge goal threat and he will be able to bring the midfielders into the game in forward positions. The link-up play between himself and Eden Hazard during the win over Huddersfield was encouraging, even if the opposition wasn’t the strongest. On Sunday, he will be needed to hold the ball up and offer an out ball to get Chelsea up the pitch. If he manages to do that and produce good link-up play, the visitors will cause problems for Manchester City. He will be confident after scoring twice against the Terriers and he will want to back that up with another good striking display.
Benjamin Mendy is closing in on a return to action and he could feature this weekend. Vincent Kompany remains on the treatment table. There is likely to be rotation, with Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling expected to return to the starting eleven.
Chelsea have a fully-fit squad to choose from. Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain will be the two players that will worry the home side. Willian is expected to start alongside them in attack. Callum Hudson-Odoi will be hoping to feature at some point.
This is going to be a real test for Manchester City and it is a game that could cause them problems. Chelsea have been a bit of a bogey side for the Citizens in recent years and the Blues can approach this fixture with nothing to lose, as the majority of people expect them to lose. That said, their defence remains a concern and it is difficult to see them limiting City. A home win is the most likely result.