Thursday, October 19
 

Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester City

Sports Mole previews Saturday evening's Premier League meeting between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Defending champions Chelsea take on leaders Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in the standout fixture of matchday seven in the Premier League.

The Citizens have started the season in scintillating form by winning eight and drawing one of their first nine games overall, though the gap on Chelsea stands at just three points heading into this heavyweight tussle.


Chelsea

For all the talk of a crisis in West London after the opening week of the season, it is fair to say that Chelsea have made their critics look rather silly by getting their campaign firmly back on track.

Three successive competitive defeats stretching into last season rightly gave boss Antonio Conte cause for concern, particularly after going down 3-2 to Burnley on home soil, but the Blues are in a strong position both domestically and in Europe right now.

The goalless draw against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago may not have given supporters reason to celebrate, with that their first blank under Conte here in 28 competitive outings, though 10 wins from their last 12 in the top flight suggests that they remain a real force.

Big summer signing Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running, despite having numerous of his own critics upon joining from Real Madrid, as the Spaniard attempts to build on his tally of seven goals in eight games for the club in all competitions.

Throw the return to full fitness of Eden Hazard into the mix, a player who has scored three and set up two in his last five meetings with this weekend's opponents, and you get the sense that Chelsea will not give up their title without a serious fight come next May.

Indeed, three points this weekend will draw the Londoners level on points with pacesetters City, and they have every chance of nabbing the result they need on the back of a superb team display against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in midweek.

Some have described that late 2-1 victory at the swanky Wanda Metropolitano as one of the best results for an English team in Europe since the turn of the decade, ensuring that the Blues remain on course for success in all three competitions that they have so far entered.

Not since November 2012 have Chelsea gone two successive games at Stamford Bridge without registering a goal, while a Conte-managed side has never gone two in a row without scoring, but outscoring an in-form City on Saturday evening may be easier said than done.

Recent form in Premier League: LWWWDW
Recent form (all competitions): WWDWWW


Manchester City

In the midst of a hugely impressive run that has seen City rack up 26 goals in a seven-match winning streak, Pep Guardiola has been keen to constantly remind supporters that it is far too early to get carried away.

They did, after all, win 10 on the spin to begin last season, before fading away badly and finishing without any silverware whatsoever - the first time that has happened in Guardiola's senior managerial career.

Guardiola confessed this week that another campaign without a trophy could well see him sacked, particularly after spending so big in the summer to overhaul his full-back department, but despite last season's struggles he has still been labelled the world's best manager by opposite number Conte.

It is now down to the Catalan coach to prove just why he is so highly regarded, and a club-record 21 goals scored in six top-flight games is certainly a good way to go about doing exactly that, with the Citizens last week becoming the first side since Blackburn Rovers in 1958 to score five or more goals in three successive games.

Everton are the only side to blemish City's record thus far, earning a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on matchday two, though even taking that into account the two-time Prem champions have still only dropped points in three of their last 14 league outings stretching into last season.

The most recent of their defeats did come against Chelsea on April 5, though, and Guardiola has failed to win any of his seven encounters with the Blues during his managerial career, excluding a penalty-shootout win with Bayern Munich in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup.

For that run to end this weekend, City will have to rack up a fifth successive away win in the top tier for just the second time since September 1912, as they attempt to stay afloat at the top of the division heading into the international break.

City have been dealt a major blow in the build-up to the game, however, with the news that Benjamin Mendy faces at least six months out, while Sergio Aguero has been ruled out indefinitely, putting pressure on their other star names to step up to the plate.

Recent form in Premier League: WDWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW


Team News

Guardiola did not reveal too much about the injuries sustained by Aguero in a car crash in Amsterdam on Thursday night, other than to say that the Argentina international will definitely miss the meeting with Chelsea with a suspected broken rib.

Mendy's layoff is a little more straightforward, as the flying full-back - made the world's most expensive defender when joining from Monaco for £51m in the summer - is out until mid-April with a cruciate ligament injury.

Captain Vincent Kompany is still nursing a calf strain that has kept him out for the past month, meanwhile, and Ilkay Gundogan is touch and go due to a fresh knee injury picked up last week.

In terms of the visitors, Hazard is in line to make his first league start of the campaign after slowly working his way back to full fitness, featuring for a combined 170 minutes across five games in September.

David Luiz completes a three-match domestic ban and Danny Drinkwater is made to wait for his debut due to a niggling injury, but Pedro is expected to return after missing the midweek win over Atletico.

Spain international Morata has been in fine form with his six goals in as many league games, though he is some way short of Micky Quinn's club record of 10 in seven.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Pedro, Hazard; Morata

Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Danilo; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Jesus, Sane


Head To Head

Chelsea were the only side to beat Man City both home and away last season, earning 2-1 and 3-1 victories in April and December respectively.

The Citizens have picked up victory just twice in their last 20 visits to Stamford Bridge in league and cup, in fact, most recently doing so in April 2016 when Aguero netted a hat-trick in a 3-0 win.

City, with 13 losses and five draws during that run, only have Aguero among their scorers in the last three meetings between the sides at home and away.


We say: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City

Chelsea may not have been quite as impressive as Man City across the opening two months of the season, but they still look a real force after dragging themselves into third place. In what is the biggest Premier League game of the season so far, a draw seems a safe bet between the heavyweight clubs.


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