Antonio Conte’s Chelsea face their biggest test this season in the former of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who are looking to leapfrog the Blues into first place with a victory.
It is probably the first time in the history of the Premier League, that club managers have received the same kind of attention and hype, or more of it than the players. It surely would never have had such huge managers at the reins of it’s biggest clubs all at the same time prior to this campaign, and this season’s biggest managerial imports, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, are currently seeing through their first seasons at the helm of Chelsea and Manchester City. Both managers have brought in different philosophies to their respective clubs and so far this season, have had varying degrees of success whilst implementing them.
Manchester City, after starting the season in blistering form, established themselves as title favourites after the Manchester derby. But they have endured some mixed results since the start of October with draws against Everton and Middlesbrough and notable losses against Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, which have seen them drop to third place in the Premier League table.
Chelsea, too, had to endure a horrid run of form in September before turning things around in October. They started off well, with promising victories and against Watford, Burnley and West Ham, but huge losses against Liverpool, Arsenal and a draw against Swansea forced Antonio Conte to ring in the changes. He has since deployed Chelsea in the 3-4-3 formation. The Blues haven’t looked back since, with 7 consecutive Premier League victories, in which they have scored 19 goals and conceded only once, to a Christian Eriksen wonderstike.
Guardiola has a fully fit squad available for him to choose from, barring the long term absence of captain Vincent Kompany. Raheem Sterling has recovered, John Stones and Ilkay Gundogan are back in the squad and will likely return into the starting XI and Fabian Delph is also available for selection.
Pablo Zabaleta will likely come back into the side in place of Bacary Sagna to take on Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso. Former Chelsea target John Stones is expected to return to the starting XI alongside Nicolas Otamendi and they will be the central defender pairing tasked with handling Diego Costa.
Aleksander Kolarov, who has missed only 2 of City’s games so far this season, will take his place at left back and hope to nullify the threat of a resurgent Victor Moses and Pedro.
Guardiola is sure to have a selection headache while selecting the correct midfield combination. N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic are arguably the best central midfield pairing in the League and have developed a fantastic understanding with each other this season. Nullifying their threat will be absolutely vital to City’s chances of victory, or even a draw. The Spaniard can choose to go with Yaya Toure, Fernando, Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan and Fabian Delph. It is expected that he will go with a 4-1-4-1 which could later switch into a 4-2-3-1 to provide more defensive solidity.
He will likely choose to start off with a 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho in behind the central midfielders Gundogan and Silva, in order to allow them more freedom in attack. If needed, Gundogan could fall back alongside Fernandinho and form a midfield pivot with David Silva being the sole attacking midfielder.
Silva, De Bruyne and Sterling are sure to start and the Belgian will be looking to justify Antonio Conte’s dismay at not having him at Stamford Bridge. They will bombard Chelsea’s back three and Sergio Aguero will be leading the City attack. He won’t be facing the usual John Terry in the back line, rather he will be coming up against a much faster David Luiz..
Predicted Starting XI(4-1-4-1): Bravo; Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov; Fernandinho; De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Silva, Sterling
Antonio Conte will have a full strength squad at his disposal going into this tie. Like their opponents, the only player unavailable for selection will likely be John Terry. It would be a big surprise if the Italian chose to change a winning formation and the starting XI for today is likely going to be the same that beat Tottenham Hotspur last week.
Luiz, Cahill and Azpilicueta will make the defence once again and they will come up against an in-form Sergio Aguero. They will be better equipped than John Terry to face the Argentine, given the significant increase in the amount of pace. Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne will come up against Azpilicueta and Moses on the right and Cahill and Alonso on the left.
One of Chelsea’s biggest strengths is their ability to attack from the wings. The freedom given to the wingbacks to attack alongside the wingers allows for more players to be involved in attacks, making the defenders’ jobs that much harder. Zabaleta will be all too aware of what a menace Hazard can be, whilst Pep Guardiola would have given his left back special instructions on how to deal or try to deal with the threat of Pedro, having known the player all too well from his time at Barcelona.
The midfield battle will be key to the result of this tie. Guardiola would certainly have watched Tottenham’s midfield trio of Wanyama, Alli and Dembele making life difficult for Matic and Kante in the early stages of the game, coming at them with everything, putting pressure and harassing them whilst they have possession. It is likely that we will see much of the same from Manchester City.
Predicted Starting XI(3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard
- Chelsea have beaten Manchester City away 11 times in the Premier League, which is their most against a team away from home in this competition.
- Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has scored 4 goals in his last 2 appearances against Chelsea.
- A win at the Etihad for Chelsea would see them collect 9 consecutive Premier League victories for the first time since 2010.
- Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Chelsea’s Diego Costa have scored 10 Premier League goals this season.
- Manchester City have kept only 2 clean sheets in 16 Premier League games.
- Chelsea have conceded only 1 goal in their last 8 Premier League matches.
Players To Watch
Manchester City: Sergio Aguero
In 13 games against Chelsea, the Argentine hitman has found the net 9 times whilst playing for both Atletico and Manchester City. He will look to better that record when they welcome Chelsea to the Etihad today. He has been in stellar form this season as usual, scoring an astonishing 16 goals in 18 appearances. Guardiola has managed to keep his star man fit for the entire season so far, preventing his customary injuries and helping extend his influence for longer periods of time. He is up against another former Atletico man in the form of Diego Costa this season in the race for the Golden Boot and both of them will be key to their sides’ chances when they face each other tomorrow.
Chelsea: Diego Costa
Like Sergio Aguero, the Spaniard has 10 Premier League goals to his name this season but he also has 4 assists as well. Costa is arguably more dangerous than he was in his first season at the club. He is far more disciplined this season under Antonio Conte than ever before and the Italian has brought him back to his clinical best. He is yet to open his account against Manchester City in the Premier League, something he will be desperate to do at the Etihad, having left the pitch last season with a bandaged head and no goal to his name in this very fixture.
5. Man City vs Chelsea
1. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.61
1. Full Time Result – Draw @ 3.60
Manchester City 0-1 Chelsea
It is impossible to see Chelsea suffer the same fate as they did last season in this fixture. They are back to their rampant best and possibly even better than the side that romped to the league title in the 2014/15 season. Chelsea seem solid in all areas of the pitch, but their 3-4-3 formation hasn’t faced anything that comes close to the quality of this Manchester City side. Pep Guardiola’s side have had mixed results this season and there are issues that need sorting out in defence, which could prove to be the difference between the two sides.
Blast From The Past