By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Etihad Stadium/March 4, 2018
I’m sure nobody expected this match to be something of a dead rubber, for City at least because no team can stop them winning the league, when the fixture list was released in June, but that’s the overriding sentiment going into this Sunday’s match considering there’s a massive 22 points between the two sides after Pep Guardiola’s men made mincemeat of a toothless Gunners’ side for the second time in four days. Chelsea are the underdogs going into this weekend’s match and that in itself says a lot about how Man City has been three steps ahead of anyone else this season considering we collected six points from them on our title-winning run last season. There will be a lot riding on the result of this match for Chelsea in the race to finish in the top four especially if the trio Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs, all of whom play before our kicks off, win their matches to extend their leads over Chelsea and make it even more difficult for us to qualify for next season’s Champions’ League than it already is.
The history clearly favours us in our previous battles with Manchester City but I’m not sure history is one of the things you want to arm yourself with when you are preparing to go head to head with Pep Guardiola’s team in the 2017/2018 season. We’ve had the better of past meeting with City with 66 wins, 53 losses and 39 draws in our 158 matches against Manchester City so far. It gets better for Chelsea, as we’ve lost just 10 of our 41 matches against City in the Premier League (W24 D7) but it’s getting more even in recent meetings. In the last 10 between the clubs it’s been even in terms of results with 4 wins apiece a 2 draws. It’s pretty interesting to know that Chelsea failed to score in any of the four City victories as we lost 2-0, 3-0, 0-3 and 0-1 in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively. With the way City are playing I fail to see how this game ends in a barren draw or with just one goal in it especially since this match will be taking place at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City has failed to score in regulation time just three times this season, against Wolves in the Carabao Cup, Crystal Palace in the league and recently against Wigan in the FA Cup. Since their barren draw against Palace however that has only happened only once in 14 matches a massive pointer to their potent attack. I expect a very high scoring affair except of course if Antonio Conte has a different idea going into the match. Chelsea has lost just one of our last four visits to the Etihad Stadium (W2 D1) and we’re the last team to beat Pep’s team at their own stadium when we defeated them in December 2016.
With so much riding on the result of this match for Chelsea predicting the lineup will be a tough ask as no one can predict how Antonio Conte approaches this match. But whatever the game plan for this match is I expect to see Eden Hazard in the lineup but it’s yet to be seen whether that will be in a three-man attack like we saw at Old Trafford or if Conte goes back to his five-man midfield in order to combat City’s power in that department. In the reverse fixture earlier in the season Conte set his team up to deny the City team space that they needed to hurt us and it almost worked for us until that one lapse in concentration allowed Kevin De Bruyne space to snatch the three points on offer for his team. One error that I picked from that game was our inability to take advantage of Fabian Delph playing out of position at left back, something I’m sure Conte would have rectified, but with Danilo likely to be playing in that position on Sunday he may not get the chance to implement his plan. Offensively Victor Moses had a poor game at Old Trafford but I still expect to see in the lineup on Sunday simply because I think he’s defensively more aware than Davide Zappacosta in the RWB position, however I’ll understand if Conte decides to go with his compatriot for this game because of the Italian’s bursting runs on the flank which will certainly cause enough trouble for whoever is playing left back for City, assuming Guardiola decides to go with a four-man defence. With this match likely to come too soon for Tiemoue Bakayoko I expect Danny Drinkwater to continue his midfield partnership with N’Golo, either in a two-man midfield or alongside Fabregas in a midfield trident. Conte confirmed during his press conference that the trio of David Luiz, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ethan Ampadu will not be traveling to Manchester due to different injuries they are carrying but Ross Barkley is back training with the first team and will be on the trip to the Etihad, but the coach is yet to determine in what capacity. Olivier Giroud got a cameo against United but barely got involved so he’ll be hoping he will play from the start against familiar foes. Willian has scored both our goals in the last two matches against Barcelona and Manchester United and so will be hoping to make it a hat trick of goals in consecutive games for Chelsea. I think Conte might be forced to draft Gary Cahill back into the back three so as to bring some experience and co-ordination to the defence considering the kind of goals we’ve conceded in our last two matches.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Giroud.
Last Five Matches: LDWWL
Injuries: David Luiz (Knock) –Out; Tiemoue Bakayoko (Knock) – Out; Ethan Ampadu (Knock) – Out.
Pep Guardiola’s side has played twice since the Chelsea players last kicked a ball at Old Trafford, with almost the same players. For the Carabao Cup win, Guardiola chose to line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation with the quartet of Kyle Walker, Vincent Company, Nicolas Otamendi and Danilo protecting Claudio Bravo’s goal. Fernadinho and Ilkay Gundogan formed the base in central midfield while the trio of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Leroy Sane played behind lone striker, if you can really call him that with the kind of support he gets, Sergio Aguero. For the trip to the Emirates Stadium however, he switched to a 4-3-3 formation. He kept the same back four only that this time they were playing in front of Eduardo and he also replaced Fernadinho with Bernado Silva due to the Brazilian’s hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out of the visit of Chelsea on Sunday evening. The trio of KDB, Gundogan and David Silva played in midfield while Sane and Bernado Silva provided support for Sergio Aguero in attack. I think we might likely see the same 11 that took on Arsenal at the Emirates on Thursday do battle against Chelsea on Sunday but with the likely exception of Kyle Walker who walked off with a calf strain against Arsenal on Thursday. Guardiola has the option of playing with three at the back with five central defenders at his disposal but that’s likely to change the dynamics of his team. One of Aymeric Laporte or John Stones maybe asked to play at right back and Danilo, who has played at left back for City in recent games, can switch to the right flank while Oleksandr Zinchenko fills in at left back.
Eduardo; Danilo, Kompany, Otamendi, Zinchenko; De Bruyne, Gundogan, Silva; Silva, Aguero, Sane.
Last 5 matches: WWLWW
Injuries: Kyle Walker (Calf) – Doubt; Benjamin Mendy (ACL) – Out; Raheem Sterling (Hamstring) – Doubt; Fernadinho (Hamstring) – Out.
N’Golo Kante vs. Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne is the chief creator for Manchester City and stopping him from having an impact on the game, which isn’t an easy task, will go a long way in stopping the City team from playing. N’Golo Kante will have the unenviable task of trying to cut the City supply line and the final result might depend on who wins this duel.
Andreas Christensen vs. Sergio Aguero
Andreas Christensen is surely having a season to be proud of in spite of his error against Barcelona but it gets more difficult as the season progresses. Sergio Aguero is certainly one of the top marksmen in the Premier League and our young Danish Prince will not have it easy but I can almost hear him say “Bring It On” because this is the sort of challenges that can make you.
Victor Moses vs. Leroy Sane
On current form this looks like a bit of a mismatch as Leroy Sane is having the season of his life scoring and making goals for City at will and German will be going into this game so high on confidence but I doubt Victor Moses will be dismayed by the prospect of testing himself against Sane.
This surely is not the best time to be playing Manchester City (as if there’s a good time) as Pep Guardiola’s team is scoring goals for fun with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners team their most recent casualty. But Antonio Conte is the last opposition manager to win at the Etihad Stadium under Guardiola’s tenure and if the Italian can do it once he can do it again only that this time it’s going to be difficult, doubly so if I may add. City has an array of attacking talents at their disposal as do Chelsea and the result of this game might depend on who makes better use of their raw materials. I’m eager to see how Antonio Conte decides to set up his team at Manchester on Sunday but I sincerely hope we don’t see a repeat of the one-sided affair that we witnessed in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. My Chelsea heart says we’d be taking a positive result from the Etihad Stadium into our next assignment against Crystal Palace next weekend as this race for the top four intensifies up but until that game against Roy Hodgson’s team Keep The Blue Flag Flying High! Ciao
Thumbnail image courtesy of: ChekiBets
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