The Etihad Stadium, Manchester
03 February 2014, 2000 GMT
The Manchester City juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down as an almost apologetic Spurs boss Tim Sherwood, still reeling from the 5-1 thrashing Pellegrini inflicted on him, publicly acknowledged City’s top-dog status on the planet. If it was meant as a subtle dig at Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, it certainly worked.
Mourinho’s instant riposte that Sherwood probably mistook England for the whole planet, was classic Mourinho at his finest. But it also betrayed Mourinho’s increasing exasperation with his team’s fortunes. In what should have been a routine day at the office, Chelsea managed to gift West Ham with a 0-0 draw. It certainly didn’t help Chelsea’s cause that the West Ham ten packed themselves like sardines in front of goal, but Mourinho must surely feel a pang of hypocrisy if he chooses the same tactics at the Etihad.
It’s almost certain Mourinho would be extremely pleased with a scoreless draw that keeps him within striking range of the top 2 sides. But an Aguero-less Manchester City side are suddenly just that little bit less threatening in front of goal, even if Chelsea’s offense have been a shambles this season. Chelsea are unlikely to score more than a goal in this clash, and it will fall upon the battle-weary shoulders of Terry et al to keep Manchester City from scoring more.
What better way to bring this week’s clashes to a close, than one between the most attacking side in the league and the most resilient.
Team News and Tactics
The absence of Aguero cannot be good news, but it certainly won’t be giving Manchester City’s owners sleepless nights. In the romp against Tottenham, all 5 goals came about courtesy 5 different players. While City surely aren’t lacking the resources to put this game to bed, Agueros’ presence and sense of attacking intent clearly terrorized opposition defenses all season long.
Samir Nasri, former Arsenal star and current Manchester City lost soul, will also fail to make an appearance in the game along with the likes of Javi Garcia and a doubtful James Milner. Expect some combination of Dzeko and either Jovetic or Negredo to torture Chelsea’s central defense pairing with repeated runs at the goal.
With Pellegrini having set up his side to attack from virtually every angle, Manchester City are likely to hold the lion’s share of possession with Davd Silva playing an especially vital role on the left flank. Against a defensive Chelsea side, Silva will likely be given the license to roam while the responsibility of collecting a stray ball in midfield will fall to Yaya Toure, and the agile Fernandinho.
Expected starting line-up (4-4-2): Hart (GK); Kompany, Zabaleta, Clichy, DeMichelis; Navas, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva; Dzeko, Jovetic.
Chelsea will likely employ a 5-man midfield to starve City of the space it needs. The obvious flaw with this plan is that in an increasingly crowded midfield, the likelihood of Hazard and Oscar getting a break to work their magic is unlikely. Terry and Cahill will be expected to hold the central defensive pairing position, with Mikel likely to sit right ahead of them.
Hazard and Oscar will likely have company in the form of Salah, who might just warrant a day at the games, being the only one of Mourinho’s players whose strengths and weaknesses have been already studied by the rest of the Premier League. Willian may just sit some portion of this encounter out, if Salah’s ability to run tangentially to his opponents is given its due consideration. Frank Lampard will stay deeper than usual, to provide the unpredictable Mikel some additional cover.
In Torres’ extended absence, Samuel Eto’o will feature as Chelsea’s sole attacking threat, and will be entrusted with poaching a goal in the unlikeliest of circumstances or whenever City’s unharried defense fail to turn on at the right time.
Expected starting line-up (4-5-1): Cech (GK); Cole, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Lampard, Mikel, Hazard, Oscar, Salah; Eto’o
- Chelsea have not conceded a goal in their last 3 away games
- Manchester City have clearly the upper hand, winning 3 of the past 5 encounters, and drawing one
- City have scored more goals so far – 68 – than they did all of last season.
Player to Watch Out For
John Terry (Chelsea FC)
A still resilient but considerably slower Chelsea captain will know that all eyes will be on him in this encounter. If he turns in a virtuoso performance against the odds, the voices of dissent will have been silenced yet again and his recovery will be complete. But should he fail, the voices clamoring for his sidelining will only get louder and it will take more than a statement of support from Mourinho to turn the tide.
City 2-1 Chelsea
The home team pack too much firepower to let Chelsea off the hook. The West London Blues’ defense will likely perform at their best, but Pellegrini’s men will eventually find a way to score two quick goals.