Stamford Bridge, London
Saturday, November 25, 16:00 GMT
Manchester City should consider themselves fortunate that despite a disappointing exit from the Champions League yet again, the unraveling of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge has hogged all the headlines. Chelsea play their first game under Rafa Benitez’s reign, and it’s anybody’s guess what approach the team will adopt. The Blues are likely to attempt shoring up their defense and Roberto Mancini will hope his strikers can find their scoring boots and carve Chelsea apart.
While Roberto Mancini is likely to continue to enjoy his owners’ backing, Rafa Benitez will first have to win over Chelsea’s supporters. So far, he’s made all the right noises talking about how his earlier remarks were all about defending his former club, Liverpool. Benitez is likely to endure a baptism of fire, and will sorely need Lampard’s reassuring presence in the middle of the pitch. Manchester City, for their part, need only to sit back and hope Chelsea implode. The Blues, staring at their worst run of games since 2010, will have the added pressure of playing at home in front of an edgy crowd while Manchester City only need to avoid anything that could jeopardize their competitiveness in the longer run, with injuries or dismissals.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Chelsea are likely to stick to a two-man defensive midfield approach, but not out of deference to a hallmark of Roberto di Matteo’s stint at The Bridge. Rafa Benitez preferred the same approach while at Anfield, using his two defensive midfielders – Alonso and Mascherano – to great effect. They held the fort, while Gerrard et al marauded up front. The problem with implementing that approach, as di Matteo would tell you, is Chelsea didn’t have the players for it.
With Lampard out of the equation over the past few weeks, Ramires and Mikel have been less than comfortable holed up in a critical position. Ramires’ tendency to drift forward leaves Mikel struggling to exert any real influence at the back. Terry’s absence meant Chelsea have had to rely on Luiz and Cahill, and the former is not the calming influence Cech needs guarding him. Benitez could have Ivanovic and Cahill play central defense, and ask Azpilicueta to man the right-back position. Ashley Cole will naturally start on the left.
Rafa Benitez’s team picks are still a matter of conjecture, but it’s safe to say he’ll have Torres up front and Eden Hazard just behind him. Mata, Oscar, Mikel and Ramires are likely to feature too unless Lampard returns from injury to take Ramires’ position. It’s unclear what tweaks Benitez will surprise us with, but shelving Luiz for Ivanovic would be a good start.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Oscar, Hazard, Mata; Torres
The Sky Blue brigade are likely to see both Kompany and Balotelli back in action. But City will be poorer for the absence of Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell could rob their defense and midfield of some spark. City’s offensive line-up is incredibly prolific though boasting Tevez, Aguero and Dzeko and with Yaya Toure holding fort, City are likely to show Chelsea just what a real defensive midfielder brings to the table. Kompany is likely to partner Nastasic in central defense, and this second-choice pairing will likely trade adventure for staidness at the back.
Mancini will instruct his team to hit Chelsea on the counter and any loss of possession by Mata, Oscar and Hazard will be punished severely. City’s height advantage over Chelsea’s diminutive midfielders will likely see Mancini’s men seek to assert their aerial supremacy. The Sky Blues will have to keep one eye on the longer run, and in a high-stakes game, City cannot afford to add to their injury list or have one of their players (read Balotelli) see red.
If City fall behind, Mancini will bring on Dzeko who’s enviable reputation for digging his side out of trouble will likely have a huge say on the game in the dying moments, considering Chelsea are most likely to concede towards the end of the game.
Probable Starting Line up (4-4-2): Hart; Maicon, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Silva, Toure, Nasri, Barry; Aguero, Tevez
- Chelsea have not won their last four league games in the Premier League.
- Cech has not kept a clean sheet in each of his last 7 Premier League games.
- Manchester City have not lost a game this season, and have not lost an away game since April 2012.
- The last four Premier League meetings between City and Chelsea have seen both sides share the honors.
Players To Watch Out For
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
Having had the ignominy of sitting out of a must-win game against Juventus, Torres will return to the top of the formation under a new manager’s reign. Rafa Benitez and Torres reportedly shared a wonderful professional understanding with each other, and Chelsea fans will hope the new manager will be able to bring Torres the form that deserted him long ago. Torres is now staring at the bottom of the barrel, having exhausted all of the club owner’s overtures towards him. If Torres fails in this clash, you can expect calls for his head will grow even louder. Watch out for Torres, because this game could well determine if the Spaniard will play for Chelsea next season, or even next year.
Chelsea 1 – 3 Manchester City
In a clash of two sides desperate to turn the tide, Chelsea are clearly the side in greater trouble. Their defensive woes, coupled with Hazard’s possible continued absence, mean Manchester City start this game as absolute favorites.