Everything else so far has been the hors d’oeuvres; this is the main course. Defending champions against their heirs apparent: Chelsea entertain Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.
There will be plenty of quality on the pitch, organised and prepared by two of the Premier League’s brightest and most inventive coaches, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola.
City’s imperious form Is let down only by the home draw with Everton in August. Ominously for the rest of the top flight, Guardiola’s men have scored 16 Premier League goals in September and conceded none. Even their rivals can only be impressed as their opponents’ net bulged on average every 16 minutes this month.
But Chelsea are no slouches either. Three points behind the leaders and unbeaten since Burnley’s shock opening day win at Stamford Bridge. Appetites are whetted at the very thought of what is shaping up to be a pulsating fixture.
After their defence descended into madness against Burnley, Chelsea have dusted themselves down and gone five unbeaten in the Premier League, dropping just two points in that time.
Arsenal, the last visitors to the Bridge, worked hard and kept Chelsea at bay and worryingly for Conte, exposed some holes in the Blues defending while blunting their attack. It’s the only time that Chelsea have failed to find the net this season.
Stoke paid the price; four rattled past Mark Hughes’ men without reply. It was a win and performance Conte needed and with the chance to reel City in, one the Italian will want repeated.
On their way to the title last season, Chelsea completed the double over City last season, winning the corresponding fixture thanks to an Eden Hazard brace.
The Belgian returned to first team action in the Carabao Cup demolition of Nottingham Forest, followed by a substitute against Stoke City last weekend. Despite Pedro’s goal at the Britannia, it won’t surprise anyone if Hazard is preferred for this game.
Their leading man is one who can exploit the vulnerability at the heart of the Manchester City defence. None of the pairings tried by Pep Guardiola has been entirely convincing and Alvaro Morata has the talent to cause major problems.
Six goals and two assists in his fledgling Premier League career is better than many observers expected, with his aerial prowess certain to cause City difficulties as Chelsea look to join their opponents on sixteen points.
The only man not overly excited by Manchester City’s start to the season is Pep Guardiola. His feet are firmly on the ground, despite their phenomenal scoring September.
City’s forward line has been brutal in their past three Premier League fixtures with everyone chipping in. Their run continued in the Champions League when the 2 – 0 scoreline flattered Shaktar Donetsk.
They even had the luxury of missing a penalty against the Ukrainians. Sergio Aguero remains one goal behind Eric Brook on 176 goals. One at Stamford Bridge will go a long way to making up for that miss but the win is more important.
It’s difficult to pick one player out as pivotal for City but David Silva is close to that at the moment. No goals but six assists and 504 completed passes (12.5% of City’s total in the Premier League) in his six appearances this season.
The concern about City is their defence which is strange considering they have conceded one goal in 630 September minutes. Yet doubts about the pairings in the centre remain. Vincent Kompany is a major doubt for the fixture following his calf injury. Guardiola will be hoping the Belgian returns to steady his back four.
After the summer spending which landed three full-backs for little under £130m, as well nearly £75m on other players, the pressure is believed to be on Guardiola after his first-ever trophyless season.
So far, City are providing the best answer possible.
FORM (Last six games)
- Manchester City scored a goal every 16 minutes in their September Premier League fixtures.
- Chelsea have scored 2 or more in 7 of their last 8 Premier League fixtures.
- Manchester City have been winning HT / FT in 7 of the last 10 Premier League games
- Chelsea have won 11 of their last 12 home games in all competitions
- Chelsea have won 3 of the last 5 meetings between the two sides at Stamford Bridge
CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
|Last six meetings|
|05/04/2017||EPL||Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City|
|03/12/2016||EPL||Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea|
|16/04/2016||EPL||Chelsea 0-3 Manchester City|
|21/02/2016||FAC||Chelsea 5-1 Manchester City|
|16/08/2016||EPL||Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea|
|31/01/2015||EPL||Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City|
By the time these two kick-off, Manchester United should have dealt comfortably with Crystal Palace at Old Trafford. It puts pressure on both; defeat opens a small gap at the top and disrupts momentum which has built in their respective season.
While City’s form is eye-catching, they have yet to be pushed. It seemed Liverpool would do so but reduced to 10-men, they collapsed. This fixture is something different and gives us a yardstick by which to judge their improvement this season.
Chelsea found Arsenal a tough nut to crack, too tough as it turned out but they will have learned the lessons of that goalless draw. Their finishing was lax with Petr Cech proving a formidable obstacle on his return to Stamford Bridge.
However, while City are bright in attack, they too work hard in recycling possession and this may prove to be the decisive factor on the day. Guardiola has his team working relentlessly off the ball as well as on it. Currently, they are showing the same verve and energy Chelsea displayed in winning the title last season.
If Chelsea can rekindle that spirit, they have a real opportunity in the match but, it is hard to look beyond an away win by a comfortable two goal margin.