Manchester City’s trip to Chelsea represents the headline clash in the Premier League this weekend and arguably the biggest game we’ve seen in English football so far this season – the top flight’s reigning champions taking on a side with the most convincing credentials to prise the crown from them.
At this point, however, both teams seem like largely unknown quantities. The Citizens have amassed impressive points and goals for tallies to rise to the Premier League’s summit, but Chelsea represent their most intimidating challenge this season by far. Likewise, although the Blues are amid a title defence, a summer of affluent spending has significantly altered the team we saw last season with key changes in attack, midfield and the defence.
Consequentially, Saturday’s clash will have an enticing air of unpredictability about it. But perhaps this week’s experts, David Chidgey from Chelsea FanCast and Bluemoon’s Ric Turner, can give an insight into how the 5.30pm kickoff will pan out…
The biggest selection dilemma Antonio Conte faces is at the back. Antonio Rudiger appears to have forced out Gary Cahill for the time being but with David Luiz suspended, would you bring the captain back in for such an important clash?
DC: I suspect that he might stick with Andreas Christensen to replace Luiz rather than Cahill, unless Cahill’s absence against Stoke was more down to squad rotation than relative form. Christensen has been very impressive so far this season and I am sure he would do a good job against City. One thing we’ll need is pace and skill rather than aerial ability and brute force, which would seem to favour Rudiger and Christensen. That said, Cahill is the captain and brings a wealth of experience to the table. Christensen looks more comfortable on the ball than Cahill and City’s pacey attack are likely to press Chelsea and put the back three under pressure when in possession, which again might favour the Dane. Whether its Cahill or Christensen who gets the nod, I have complete faith in Conte to make the right decision.
Sergio Aguero’s injury comes at a terrible time for City, all-the-more unfortunately suffered during non-football related activities. Guardiola still has some fantastic attacking options to choose from, but how will Aguero’s absence affect his starting XI?
RT: Aguero’s injury, coming so soon after the news of Benjamin Mendy’s ruptured cruciate ligament, is a big blow for City. It wouldn’t surprise me if Guardiola opted to bolster his midfield by including Ilkay Gundogan, although either Raheem Sterling or Bernardo Silva could come in on the right hand side of attack in a 4-3-3 formation with Leroy Sane on the left, and Jesus through the middle.
Manchester City’s attack has been nothing short of rampant this season, so how should Chelsea approach this match? Should Conte look to hit City on the counter or would you like to see a more expansive game at home?
DC: Conte has set us up well to counter-attack this season and we have the pace to exploit it. It might help us out to sit back and soak up the pressure that will inevitably come from City and hopefully take advantage of any space that they leave as they bomb forward. I don’t see a Guardiola side playing cautiously or parking the bus so from that point of view it might be an expansive game. But Conte, as an Italian coach, is too shrewd to leave the door open at the back. Chelsea seem to have more problems breaking teams down who defend as a unit and are well organised – hopefully City’s desire to attack will give us the chance to open them up.
Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany will both be out for this fixture. Will that impact City’s organisation at the back or do you think their defensive issues have been overplayed this season, considering they’ve conceded just twice in the Premier League?
RT: Both players would be in our strongest XI when fit, so it’ll be a blow not to have either available for such a tough game. Mendy’s injury is a particular problem, in that he’s our only recognised left back. I do think we’re a lot stronger defensively this season though, and Ederson plays a bit part in that. He is a huge upgrade on Claudio Bravo and seems to breed confidence into those in front of him.
What will be the deciding factor in this game?
DC: Given that City will attack and have some exceptional attacking players but are perhaps still suspect at the back, it appears that the two teams may cancel each other out. Ultimately I believe that the deciding factor will be Chelsea’s ability to defend against City and stop them from scoring. If they can do that, then we have enough players who can score a goal and we will get chances. If we are as clinical as we were against Stoke then I can see Chelsea winning, providing they can shut City out.
Chelsea are an incredibly well-balanced side that often appear almost machine-like in the way they go about their victories. But what are the Blues’ inevitable weaknesses and how can City exploit them?
RT: David Luiz’s suspension is a blow for them, and I think the Blues can be got at defensively. Conte has them well organised, but we can cause them problems if they play a back three against our front three.
And finally chaps, let’s hear your score predictions…
DC: Not an easy game to predict – if they cancel each other out it could be a surprising 0-0 draw. If Chelsea fail to contain City’s prolific attack we could get dubbed. That said, City will leave gaps and Chelsea will create chances. I’ll stick my neck out and say Chelsea to edge it 3:2 – I see goals in this match. No doubt it will be a 0-0 draw now I’ve said this.
RT: I think it will be a tight game. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.