Preview: Manchester City vs Chelsea
Preview: Manchester City vs Chelsea
Champions-elect Manchester City head into Sunday’s Premier League home match against Chelsea brimming with confidence following their back-to-back wins against Arsenal, the first of which clinched them the EFL Cup.
With one piece of silverware in the bag, Pep Guardiola’s side will be keen to secure a win against a top-four rival so they can take another important step towards clinching the title.
When playing to their full potential, City under Guardiola are nigh on unbeatable, and they certainly looked that way while wiping the floor with Arsenal, first at Wembley Stadium in front of more than 85,000 supporters, and then at the Emirates just days later.
Although the Gunners’ recent problems are well documented, those consecutive 3-0 triumphs said more about City’s prowess across the pitch than Arsene Wenger’s woes.
City start the weekend top of the table with a 16-point lead over their closest rivals Manchester United. Their haul of 75 points after 28 matches is a Premier League record, and their goal return of 82 is the highest by a top-tier side since the Tottenham Hotspur team of 1962-63.
Guardiola’s men have lost just once in the league all season, a 4-3 reverse at Liverpool in January, and have gone five games unbeaten in the competition since then.
The Sky Blues’ home record is stellar, winning 13 in a row at the Etihad Stadium and scoring at least twice in each of those matches. One more victory on the spin would equal the Premier League record set by Liverpool.
City may be the toughest side to beat in England, but they have leaked more goals than usual of late, keeping just two clean sheets in the last nine home games.
That is something Antonio Conte and Chelsea must attempt exploit, but the Blues should be aware that City tend to raise their game when playing against Premier League champions. They have won all of their last five home fixtures against title holders.
The in-form Sergio Aguero is the player to watch for them, more so than usual, as the Argentine hitman has five goals in his last four matches against Chelsea.
Recent form: LWWDWW
Recent form (all competitions): DWLWW
There is talk of a crisis at Chelsea, to the extent that many are tipping Conte with the Stamford Bridge exit, less than one season after he lifted the league title.
That is what three defeats in the last four home matches does to a club which suffered the same number of losses during the previous 23 games.
Last time out, they went down 2-1 at Manchester United, but heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Watford have raised questions about the Blues, although a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League has since restored pride.
Defeat at the Etihad would see Chelsea lumbered with two unwanted records: the first time Conte has suffered three consecutive away losses in a league competition as a manager, and the first time the club has lost four away games on the bounce in all competitions for 14 years.
The London outfit have struggled on the road all season, their only wins in the last 10 outings coming at Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town, and their deficiencies have been all too apparent against top-four opposition. They have won just once when playing away to a team in the Champions League positions this term.
Chelsea did manage to defeat Guardiola’s City at the Etihad on their way to the title last season and, coupled with their win over the Sky Blues at Stamford Bridge, this made Conte the only manager ever to have registered a league double over the former Barcelona coach.
Guardiola can become the second coach to do so against Conte if City emerge victorious on Sunday, the other being Sampdoria’s Delio Rossi in 2012-13.
Chelsea will be looking to Eden Hazard for inspiration against City, as the Belgian has four goals and as many assists against the Citizens in his last seven meetings with them.
Recent form: DWLLWL
Recent form (all competitions): LLWWDL
Wing-back Kyle Walker is City’s main injury doubt ahead of the match, as the England international limped off with a calf problem during the midweek victory over Arsenal.
Raheem Sterling is also a fitness doubt, while midfielder Fernandinho is certain to miss out due to a hamstring injury, as is Benjamin Mendy with a knee problem.
Fabian Delph, meanwhile, is still suspended.
Attacking midfielder Ross Barkley is back in contention for Chelsea after missing the defeat to Manchester United, and Cesc Fabregas is also pushing for a recall.
Tiemoue Bakayoko, Ethan Ampadu and David Luiz have all been ruled out.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Zinchenko, Danilo, Kompany, Otamendi; Gundogan, De Bruyne, Silva, Bernardo, Sane; Aguero
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Hazard
Head To Head
Having done the double over City last season, Sunday’s trip to the Etihad gives Chelsea the chance to win back-to-back away matches against the Sky Blues for the first time since 2008.
The Citizens have found Chelsea a tough opponent in the past and have beaten them only once in their last four home games, that win coming in August 2015.
In fact, City’s 24 Premier League defeats to the Blues is their worst record against any opponent in the top flight.
In September last year, the reverse fixture finished 1-0 to Guardiola’s men thanks to a Kevin De Bruyne goal.