Chelsea and Manchester City square off in the Premier League’s headline fixture this weekend, knowing the result could have a huge bearing on the title race come the end of May.
Indeed, the Blues will be more than aware City are firmly focused on prising the title from their clutches, so they’ll be desperate not to surrender any points at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
But what does history tell us about this fixture, how will the style of referee Martin Atkinson influence the match and which manager’s team selection will be affected by injury problems? Our preview pack reveals all…
Considering Chelsea’s ludicrously rich owner bought the club several years before the Sheik takeover at Manchester City, it’s perhaps no surprise that the Blues have dominated this fixture down the years, tasting victory on 13 more occasions, netting 28 more goals and failing to score in ten less meetings. Chelsea even won all eight of their top flight clashes with the Citizens between 2006 and 2009.
More interestingly though, even in the context of recent Premier League history, Chelsea have largely maintained their superiority, winning four of the last ten compared to City’s three and twice leaving the Etihad Stadium with all three points. In terms of their record at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s win rate is a whopping 45% greater – which doesn’t bode too well for City’s trip to west London this weekend.
The statistics suggest Martin Atkinson’s rather laid-back refereeing style will play directly into Chelsea’s hands this weekend.
Indeed, Chelsea have committed the most fouls and recorded the second-most tackles of any Premier League side this season, but the 46-year-old is usually rather lenient on both counts, ranking no higher than 13th throughout the division’s 19 referees last season for fouls per match, fouls per tackle and cards per match.
Considering it will likely be Chelsea doing the majority of the defending on Saturday, that surely works in the Blues’ favour as they use physicality to nick the ball off Pep Guardiola’s possession-retaining side. On the other hand, though, less than half of Atkinson’s games last season resulted in home wins, meaning a draw or an away victory is the likelier result.
Chelsea boast a clean bill of heath going into Saturday’s game with the exception of Danny Drinkwater, who was unlikely to claim a place in the engine room anyway, but the absence of David Luiz through suspension is a significant loss.
The Brazilian is the lynchpin of Chelsea’s back three, covering the other two centre-halves and stepping into midfield when required, and Antonio Conte faces a big decision in fielding either Gary Cahill or Andreas Christensen in the central role. The magnitude of Saturday’s game suggests the Chelsea skipper is more suitable, but don’t be surprised to see Conte turn to the Danish international’s superior speed and passing ability to counteract Man City’s high-pressing, speedy front line.
The other potential variation to the predicted starting line up is a 3-5-2 formation rather than 3-4-3; the former system inspired a huge win over Atletico in midweek and Conte may want that extra protection in midfield considering the quality City have.
In contrast, Manchester City face three incredibly significant injuries heading into the weekend.
An unfortunate car accident has ruled out Sergio Aguero, while Benjamin Mendy looks to be sidelined for the season and Vincent Kompany, despite being selected for international duty, isn’t match fit. That’s two significant blows to City’s spine and the removal of Pep Guardiola’s only natural option for the left of defence.
Danilo has proved himself capable of moving over to his less associated flank, however, and Gabriel Jesus is one hell of an understudy for City’s iconic Argentine. All in all, Guardiola still has a vastly talented team at his disposal and the City gaffer will likely stick with the 4-3-3 formation that inspired huge wins over Watford and Crystal Palace.