A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s visit to Manchester City.
This Sunday sees Chelsea travel up to Manchester as they take on the reigning champions in their Premier League clash. It is a match up between the 2 most recent league winners and will be repeated in 2 weeks time at Wembley Stadium in this season’s League Cup final.
Chelsea have slipped down to 5th place in the league thanks to Manchester United’s comfortable victory at Fulham yesterday, and The Blues will be desperate to regain a top 4 spot and the prestige and financial rewards of Champions League football next season.
However, it will be the hosts who are under the greater pressure to win. The Citizens are in a head to head battle for the title this season, having returned to the summit on Wednesday evening as they defeated Everton. However Liverpool are enjoying an outstanding season and retook the top spot after beating Bournemouth yesterday.
Pep Guardiola not only wants to retain the English league title, but also wants his team to win the trophy with style. The Spaniard has brought some scintillating football and intriguing tactics to this country and it is a similar vein of thought that Roman Abramovich brought Italian Maurizio Sarri to West London.
So a match that brings huge consequences regarding the outcome, is also a fascinating look at some of the leading philosophies of modern football. Manchester City look as close to being all conquering and are well positioned in all 4 competitions. Not many would bet against them on each front.
However, The Citizens have looked vulnerable on occasions. One of which was their league match at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. A Chelsea team which was forced to return to a more counter attacking style, while needing to defend with passion and strength to all the plaudits and the points.
It was a match noted for both managers opting for the so called false 9 style. Sarri was in the early stages of not choosing either of his recognised strikers, but utilising Eden Hazard in a central role. More surprisingly, Guardiola moved Raheem Sterling to be his central attacker. It was a choice that back fired on him as City failed to convert their superior play in to goals and The Blues made the most of their opportunity to win all 3 points.
Guardiola will pick a more recognised line up this Sunday and should be able to recall both Kevin de Bruyne and Sterling after they were named as substitutes on Wednesday. Benjamin Mendy, Vincent Kompany and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo are still unavailable.
Sarri has an almost full squad available to him. Antonio Rudiger has overcome the knee injury that kept him out against Huddersfield Town last weekend, while Callum Hudson-Odoi and Gary Cahill have also recovered.
We can expect the Italian to revert to his favoured starting line up with new signing Gonzalo Higuain leading the line, flanked by Hazard and Willian. Mateo Kovacic is likely to return to midfield and the only question mark may be whether Marcos Alonso retains the left back role. If Sterling starts on the right for City, the Spanish defender may be in for another torrid afternoon.
What could be key is how The Blues line up approaches the match. With both teams keen to retain the ball and stifle the opposition’s possession, Chelsea’s defending and their speed with the ball will be very important for them. Transferring the ball from the back to the forwards quickly and efficiently can be very effective against this City team and could be Chelsea’s biggest chance to get a result.
The good news for all who follow The Blues is that Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 7 games against reigning Premier League champions, including winning their last 3 encounters. Also, Chelsea have beaten Manchester City more times in the Premier League than any other opposition.
In what will be Chelsea’s toughest match of the league season, any result that isn’t a defeat should be regarded as a success. After all, City are the most expensive team and probably the best team anywhere at the moment.
There will still be 12 league matches after this clash and so the result should not be seen as the final answer as to how both sides will end their campaigns. City will still be aiming for back to back titles, while Chelsea will still be more than capable of finishing in the top 4 and progressing in cup competitions.
The match and it’s result should be seen for what it is. 2 of the best teams going head to head in what should be a colossal encounter.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue