By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/September 30, 2017
This is the last leg of three mammoth football matches that has already submitted two difficult away victories against Stoke City and Atletico Madrid in the Champions’ League. We have so far recorded five victories and a draw from our six games this month and what joy it will bring, for me personally, if we’re to sign off with a victory against Pep Guardiola’s free-scoring, table-topping Manchester City team. The Citizens have started this season much like they did last season with eight victories form nine matches scoring a combined 27 goals and conceding just two. City have been scoring goals for fun lately but on Saturday they won’t find it easy against a Chelsea that has conceded just three goals in all competitions since letting in three in that freak of a match against Burnley on the opening day of the Premier League this season. The key to winning this game will be to be as disciplined as possible defensively against the rampant City attack and take our chances when they present themselves just like we did against Atletico on Wednesday night.
Antonio Conte became the first coach, and Chelsea the first team, ever to beat a Pep Guardiola’s team twice during the same league campaign which will make this fixture much more important to him than just the three points on offer. Chelsea and City have faced off a combined 157 times in all competitions with Chelsea shading the wins with 66 and City with 52 with the remaining 39 ending in draws. In the Premier League however, the two teams have squared off 40 times with Chelsea again coming out tops with 24 victories against City’s 9 victories with 7 draws completing the sequence. City has won just three of their last ten encounters with Chelsea in the premier League (D3 L4) and they have just two victories (in 2010 and the troubled 2015/16 season) to show for their last ten visits to SW6 (D2 L6) the most recent being in April thanks to two Eden Hazard goals. During those last ten visits, City only failed to score four times (D1 L3) but they have found the back of the net in each of their last four visits (W1 D1 L2) their only win in that time being the 3-0 reverse we suffered during the 2015/16 season. this game has certainly presented its fair share of classics over the years and the match on Saturday is shaping up to be just that.
Antonio Conte is sure to reshuffle his team after the exertions in Spain on Wednesday night but I expect him to keep the core of the team that did us proud in Madrid. Eden Hazard is in line to start his first Premier League since the last game of last season against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. In my preview of Wednesday’s game, I did predict Zappacosta was going to start ahead of Moses in the RWB spot but Conte chose instead to start with the Nigerian (and he was justified in that decision as well) and I expect him to continue in that position against City based on the fact that I sincerely do not think Zappacosta is up to the physicality of the Premier League yet. But should Conte decide against starting Moses, he still has other options to explore in that he could play Azpilicueta there and bring Antonio Rudiger back into the line up to fill the RCB spot. One thing I’ll personally like to see is the midfield trident of Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas with Hazard and Morata playing ahead of them in the same 3-5-2 formation deployed in Madrid to devastating effect at least in the first half and if the game isn’t going according to plan then Conte can always revert back to his tested and trusted 3-4-3 formation. The link up play between Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata on Wednesday was pleasing to the eye disguising the fact that was the first time they have been in the same team together and I’ll very much like to see how the City defense cope with them. The pace and ability of Pedro to run in behind might also come in handy as Sadio Mane did it to great effect before he was sent off at the Etihad. I trust Conte knows the magnitude of winning this game hence he will surely send out the team he trusts to get the job done.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: WWDWW
Injuries: Danny Drinkwater (Muscular) – Out; David Luiz (Suspended)
Manchester City have started this season like a house on fire and has destroyed everything on their path including the 5-0 bashing of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool but I’m sure Guardiola will know and would have passed it to his team that Chelsea will be a different proposition, especially given the Blues’ new found confidence. In the corresponding fixture last April, Pep Guardiola matched Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 formation deploying both Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas as wingbacks but that didn’t work out so well for them as they left Stamford Bridge with nothing having lost to two Eden Hazard goals. Guardiola started this season continuing with the three at the back formation using it in three of their six Premier League matches against Brighton, Everton and Liverpool but recently he has used a more stable 4-3-3 formation with Fernadinho as the anchor with Kevin De Bruyne and Silva ahead of him, and alternating between Sterling, Sane, Bernado Silva and Gabriel Jesus on the wings with Sergio Aguero leading the line. Pep Guardiola might however be forced to tweak his team selection with the news of summer signing Benjamin Mendy’s knee ligament injury needing surgery and Sergio Aguero being involved in a motor accident in Holland during the week and the availability of the Argentine will be subject to clearance from the club’s doctors but that shouldn’t pose any threat to City’s chances at Stamford Bridge given the abundance of attacking talents at his disposal. Danilo or Sane should slot into the team in place of Mendy depending on the formation the Spaniard decides to use on Saturday. Raheem Sterling has added goals to his game just like his coach wanted and hence has started each of the team’s last three matches scoring two goals in the process and he should continue on the right side of City’s attack irrespective of the formation chosen. The loss of Aguero will be especially felt should he eventually missed the match as he has scored five goals on his previous visits to Stamford Bridge, only Robin Van Persie with six has scored more.
Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Stones, Danilo; Fernadinho, Silva, De Bruyne; Sane, Sterling, Aguero.
Last 5 matches: WWWWW
Injuries: Benjamin Mendy (ACL) – Out; Vincent Kompany (Calf) –Doubt; Sergio Aguero (Fractures) – Doubt
Eden Hazard vs. Kyle Walker
This will be a familiar duel to both Hazard and Walker as they have squared off numerous times before but on the basis of Hazard’s performance in Madrid on Wednesday night Walker will be coming up against a different animal to the Hazard he is used to. I seriously can’t wait for this matchup come kick off.
Victor Moses vs. Leroy Sane
This is going to a topsy-turvy battle between these two pacesters. The last time these two faced off was in April when the German was playing as LWB in City’s defeat at Stamford Bridge but he’s likely to be playing further forward, if he’s picked in the starting eleven, making him more dangerous than in April.
Tiemoue Bakayoko vs. Fernadinho
I can’t wait to see how our new midfield kingpin fairs against one of the best in the business. Fernadinho has been very important to how Guardiola sets his team up as he frees up the duo of Silva and De Bruyne to wreak havoc in the opposition‘s half. I’m sure the Brazilian hasn’t forgotten all about the Frenchman from their battles in last season’s Champions’ League during Bakayoko’s time in Monaco.
Manchester City has won each of their last four matches in all competitions without conceding while scoring 17 goals but that run will be under threat when Guardiola leads his team into battle at Stamford Bridge on Saturday tea time. Guardiola lost twice to the same team in the same season for the first time in his career when he lost twice to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea last season and he might be up for some revenge on Saturday even though the three points will be much more important to him. For Antonio Conte however this is not a match his team cannot afford to lose as the gap between his team and the top of the table is likely to have risen to six if, as expected, Manchester United defeats Crystal palace earlier on Saturday. One thing that’s a certainty for Saturday is that this is going to be an exciting game of football for the neutrals. There will be an international break immediately following this week’s fixtures hence the next time I’ll be here is in a fortnight’s time when we visit Selhurst Park in the premier League but until then I hope we have the three points on Saturday to whet our appetites until ‘real’ football returns. Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: League Lane
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