Chelsea vs Manchester City | Saturday 31 January | Stamford Bridge | 19:30
Champions Manchester City travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday to take on league leaders Chelsea in what could prove to be a decisive matchup with regards to the Premier League title. The Blues are five points clear at the summit following their 5-0 thrashing of Swansea and City’s 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal last time out. Manuel Pellegrini knows that if his side lose, they will fall eight points behind Chelsea which will almost hand over the trophy to Jose Mourinho. City will feel they have enough quality to pick up maximum points at the Bridge. However, Chelsea have won every league game there. Both teams were dumped out of the FA Cup last weekend after shocking home defeats to lower league sides and the two English giants will be eager to put that embarrassment behind them with a classy performance.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester City 26/10
It’s difficult for Mourinho to forget what happened against Bradford City in last weekend’s FA Cup drama. I’m even struggling to get over it. He rotated and used the depth of his squad and when he needed those players to show up, they let him down massively. One good thing for Mourinho is that he doesn’t need to call upon his fringe players this time. Bad news for the Portuguese is that he may be without the services of stalwarts Branislav Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas after both picked up knocks in the gruelling Capital One Cup fixture against Liverpool. However, the likes of Thibaut Courtois, John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard, Willian and Diego Costa, who were all rested against Bradford, will be ready for the Citizens come Saturday.
Chelsea’s phenomenal home form has been key to where they currently lie on the Premier League table. The Blues have won all ten of their matches played at Stamford Bridge, scoring 24 goals whilst conceding just three times. Chelsea have looked a different force this season than ever before. The famed ruggedness of the old has made way for pure finesse. They appear almost irresistible at the moment with their fluidity and passing work, very much a team filled with confidence and a lot of understanding with one another that has seen them break others down. The Blues are unbeaten against the Citizens in their last three league meetings with Mourinho’s team having conquered the champions both home and away last season and were close to making it three consecutive victories, had it not been for their former talisman Frank Lampard who grabbed an equaliser in injury time to draw 1-1 in September. Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation provides a lot of balance to the team as there is equal impetus on defending and attacking. There are many dangerous players and huge scoring threats in this Chelsea side who will cause all sorts of problems for City’s nervy defence.
Manchester City’s exit from the FA Cup against Middlesbrough was slightly different to Chelsea’s. Yes, both teams were horrendous but the Citizens fielded a much stronger team having started several first team members such as skipper Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, James Milner, Fernando, Jesus Navas, David Silva, Stevan Jovetic and Sergio Aguero. The Citizens looked jaded against the Boro and were in fact fortunate to lose by a scoreline of 2-0 because the truth of the matter is, it could easily have been four or five. Now, obviously Manchester City will beat Middlesbrough nine out of ten times but we just haven’t seen that City, not for a while now. City are the reigning champions and worthy of the status. They also hold the League Cup. Top teams do not fall apart overnight but their recent run of form will raise concerns for Pellegrini. The Citizens have picked up just five points from a possible twelve, having won just once in their last four matches in the league with two draws and a defeat. Lampard may have scored against his former team last time out but he should receive a hero's welcome at the Bridge after stating his love for the club. But love story’s aside, Lamps is a Citizen and if called upon, he will go all out to see that his side claim victory.
Silva will be City’s main ingredient for creativity and will be expected to dictate the tempo and style of City’s attacks. The Spaniard likes to float around the pitch, collecting the ball in various parts of the ground and linking play, sewing together the disparate parts of City’s team. When given time and space on the ball, he can produce at any given moment and Chelsea will need to mark him tightly. Aguero has not torn up any trees since returning to action after a five-week layoff. But you get the sense he is sharpening his claws for this weekend’s trip to Chelsea. He scored a cracker there last season. The last time City won at Stamford Bridge, the diminutive Argentine striker scored twice as City won 4-2. Aguero has been revving up for a moment like that.
VERDICT: Chelsea 1/1
Chelsea come into the game favourites at even money while Manchester City are priced at 26/10. The champions have not looked convincing recently and will have to do without the services of Yaya Toure. Chelsea look a different beast when they’re playing at home and have won all ten of their matches there. You need to be at your best to come away with a point at the Bridge, let alone three, and City are far from their best right now. City look a longshot to upset the league leaders and even the bookies think so. Back Jose’s boys to reign supreme.