Manchester City host Chelsea in the Premier League’s biggest clash of the weekend.
These teams enter Sunday’s 4pm kickoff in almost exactly reversed circumstances to last season, when it was the Blues enjoying a healthy lead at the division’s summit and the Citizens fearful of missing out on one of the Champions League qualification spots.
But which manager is faced with the biggest injury problems, how could the referee influence the match, where will the game be lost and won and what is the likeliest result? Our match preview covers everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s heavyweight clash…
Perhaps Chelsea’s dominance in this fixture isn’t all that surprising considering Manchester City’s ludicrously rich owners began transforming the club a good five years after Roman Abramovich took the helm at Stamford Bridge. But the Blues’ recurring success against City actually predates that; from 1994 to 2009, there were only three occasions in which Chelsea failed to beat the Citizens in the top flight – a run spanning 20 games.
From that point though, this fixture has been far more even, with City even enjoying a slight upper hand. They’ve won eight of the last 17 meetings, compared to Chelsea’s six victories, including three wins in west London. Nonetheless, that 60% win rate on City’s patch remains a huge source of inspiration for Antonio Conte to take into Sunday’s game.
There’s little doubt over which side enters Sunday’s game enjoying the stronger form in the Premier League. While City’s last six matches include some of their only domestic blips this season – namely the 4-3 defeat at Anfield and a draw with Burnley at Turf Moor, they’ve averaged three goals a game during that time and kept two clean sheets – a decent enough return when you’re so heavily geared towards attacking football.
Compare that to Chelsea, who have lost three of their last four games in the top flight – with Bournemouth and Watford claiming shock wins and the Blues then coming up short against at Old Trafford last time out. Chelsea have managed three clean sheets in their last six, however, and if Conte can bring that defensive resilience to the Etihad Stadium the Blues may come away with a good result.
Expected to do the majority of the defending on Sunday, Chelsea will need to be wary of Michael Oliver’s strict approach to refereeing. From the 19 referees to officiate in the top flight this term, Oliver ranks in the top six for fouls, yellow cards and penalties per game – so it’s clear he’s prepared to make big calls and lay down the letter of the law.
Unfortunately for the Blues too, Olivier’s fouls per tackle average doesn’t help them much either. Cute fouls could have proved a shrewd way of slowing down City’s momentum when in possession, but Olivier likes to let the game flow before coming back and dishing out cards. However, there is one crucial positive for Chelsea to take from Oliver’s season so far – 39% of the games he’s officiated have ended in away wins, the third-highest return of any Premier League referee.
While that doesn’t guarantee anything for Sunday’s game, it at least suggests Oliver won’t readily succumb to the will of the home crowd.
Pep Guardiola does have to contend with a few key injuries for Sunday’s game, especially in light of the fact it will be City’s third match in the space of a week and their second in the space of just four days. That could see Guardiola make some changes but we’re expecting him to largely stick with the same XI that absolutely destroyed Arsenal in the first half of their 3-0 win on Thursday night, the only exception being Raheem Sterling – who Transfermarkt value at £72million – returning from the sidelines to replace Bernardo Silva. However, with Fabian Delph still suspended, we could also see Oleksandr Zinchenko replace right-footed full-back Danilo at No.3.
Chelsea have fluctuated between 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 at times this season, but we’re expecting Conte to stick with the same formation and essentially the same side he used on the other side of Manchester last weekend.
There is one expected change in the engine room, however, with 110-cap Spaniard Cesc Fabregas coming in for Danny Drinkwater who looked a little overawed at Old Trafford. But don’t be too surprised to see Conte make another change up top, with Alvaro Morata struggling to impact against the Red Devils and Olivier Giroud eager to impress since his January move from Arsenal.
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