Manchester City entertain Chelsea on Sunday in a fixture that carries as much baggage as you’d expect for a game between the two main title challengers. Chelsea’s visit to The Etihad last season was notable for providing City’s only defeat there in the Premier League, making the Londoner’s the only side to do the double over the Blues. Of course, that wouldn’t have been the case had Joe Hart not decided to go for an ill-timed stroll around Stamford Bridge in the first meeting of that campaign.
Their visit to Manchester marked one of the few occasions in which Manuel Pellegrini was tactically outclassed. A lot of people don’t like Jose Mourinho’s defensive approach but, for his many faults, there is no doubt that he remains one of footballs master tacticians. That he was the only manager who found a way to stop City scoring a Premier League goal at home is testament to that; should he employ similar tactics again, it is for the Champions to find a way around it.
City will be desperate to make amends this time round. One must be wary of reading too much into the opening four games of a season, but Chelsea have wasted no time in re-affirming the belief of pundits and punters alike that they are the pretenders to City’s crown. They’ve already bagged 15 goals, seven of which have been provided by new-boy Diego Costa. To say that the striker, capped for both Brazil and Spain, has hit the ground running would be a gross understatement. With another key addition in the mercurial Cesc Fabregas now pulling the strings in a midfield that could already lay claim to being the best in the league, it’s not difficult to see why so many are tipping them for the title.
City will be determined to make a statement here and show just why they themselves should be considered favourites to retain their title this term. It will be interesting to see whether Pellegrini sticks with Yaya Toure in midfield or, just as he did at Arsenal a week ago, opts to go with Frank Lampard. That would make for a great story, coming so soon after Lampard’s association with Chelsea came to an end. The team is never picked on it’s ‘great story’ factor though, and one wonders whether Lampard currently has the fitness to deal with the likes of Fabregas, Hazard and Matic.
Toure has faced a lot of criticism following a poor showing in Munich this week, with much going far beyond what you might consider reasonable. That made him a key focus for journalists at Manuel Pellgerini’s Friday press conference, though the Chilean was as supportive of the Ivorian as you’d expect. ” I think as a team, a coach, as a club we must support him because he is a very important player, he makes a difference and I’m sure he will return to his best”.
City have almost a full squad to call on, with only Jovetic and Fernando still sidelined. Mourinho has confirmed that Diego Costa will start despite injury concerns surrounding him. Those same injury concerns have been there all season though and they’ve not exactly slowed him down yet.
This is set to be an intriguing and entertaining tie between two rival teams and managers. In the end, City won despite coughing up six points to Chelsea last term. It would be ridiculous to try and the call the winner after five games, but one suspects that in the final reckoning, should Chelsea have repeated that double, they might just top the pile this time.
written by Richard Burns