Manchester City host Chelsea at the Etihad on Saturday noontime as Pep Guardiola’s men look to turn the tide in the Premier League title race. Their opponents have enjoyed a flying run of form lately, winning their last seven league fixtures. City on the other hand have gone unbeaten in their last six Premier League matches, winning four and drawing two.
Man City sit 3rd going into Saturday’s match, trailing Liverpool in 2nd place by one solitary goal in the goal difference column, while Chelsea are of course top, one point ahead of City. Last time out Guardiola’s men narrowly beat Burnley away from home – commendable feat given Burnley’s record against the big sides this season.
The obvious factor to be taken into account when assessing both sides’ form so far this season is that City have had to contend with Champions League football every second week while Chelsea have not. City dropped seven points in games following Champions League matches this season. However their next and final Champions League match left is essentially a dead rubber, meaning Guardiola’s men have a free run at the league until February.
Chelsea have been in fine fettle ever since the switch to three at the back: the system which garnered so much success for Antonio Conte at Juventus over the years. Indeed, the Blues have scored 19 goals in the Premier League since the switch, and have conceded only once in that time; in their 2-1 win at home to Spurs last time out.
John Terry will still be missing for Chelsea after the Blues captain suffered a muscular injury last week, which kept him out of the squad that beat Spurs on Saturday. Mikel John Obi also looks likely to be missing with a muscular injury.
Guardiola, meanwhile, will be without long-term absentee Vincent Kompany (knee) although Raheem Sterling (knock) and Fabian Delph (groin) could return. John Stones is also likely to be back in Guardiola’s matchday squad after being left out of the team that beat Burnely 2-1 last weekend and the team that defeated Crystal Palace the week before.
Pep Guardiola likes to spring a tactical surprise and expect one here. He could look to match Chelsea’s back three with a similar system of his own, which may require Fernandinho to drop into defence with the aforementioned Kompany out injured. Yaya Toure has started in each of Manchester City’s last two league games and it would be a remarkable turnaround in fortunes if the Ivorian is trusted in a game of this magnitude.
Pedro has reserved his best performances when playing at home, where all eight of the goals he has directly contributed towards have come. If any changes are made to the team, Conte could bring Willian into the team in favour of Pedro. Finally regarding team news and possible permutations Diego Costa has been stuck on four bookings for his last eight matches and remains one yellow off a one-match suspension.
This eagerly anticipated fixture will see arguably the two of the most tactically astute managers come together in what could land an early blow in the destination of the Premier League title. Chelsea are the form side going into the fixture, but the real issue is whether Guardiola can spring a plan to quell Chelsea’s formidable set-up. While such a scenario is plausible, the more likely outcome is – sadly – a draw. Both teams are likely to match each other step for step in this enticing encounter.