In what looks to be the biggest game of the Premier League season so far, Chelsea host Manchester City this evening with three vital points up for grabs.
There is a real buzz around Chelsea and Stamford Bridge at the minute following two fantastic performances that have earned Antonio Conte and his men a couple of important victories. After defeating Stoke City 4-0 at the bet365 stadium last Saturday, the Blues improved upon even that impressive feat with a dramatic 2-1 Champions League win over Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. This evening’s game represents another very difficult test however, and supporters are very aware that a slip up this evening would put a lot of this month’s great work to waste; such is the intense level of competition in the Premier League.
In Manchester City, Chelsea face a side who not can not only match their incredible recent form but better it thanks to the large number of goals Pep Guardiola’s men have scored in the opening weeks of this season. City are absolutely flying in all competitions and sit unbeaten at the top of the Premier League table having scored a whopping 21 goals in their six games and only conceding twice. As a result, Antonio Conte is understandably cautious heading into this fixture, but can take great confidence from last season’s meetings with this City side where Chelsea managed an unprecedented double over the Cityzens, the first time ever that Pep Guardiola lost home and away to the same team in a league season.
Andreas Christensen is expected once again fill in for the suspended David Luiz with this being the final game that the Brazilian defender must miss as a result of a poor tackle against Arsenal earlier this month. Otherwise, Chelsea have a near full squad to choose from for this one with only Danny Drinkwater (calf) unavailable through injury.
After such a strong performance in Madrid this week it is perhaps likely that Conte will line up with a similar 3-5-2 formation rather than his usual 3-4-3, especially after admitting in his press conference this week that Eden Hazard performed well playing off Alvaro Morata as a lone striker. Manchester City’s squad is full of creative, attack-minded players which is why the Italian may well be tempted to pack his central midfield full with N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas all starting once again.
As for City, Pep Guardiola has a greater number of injury concerns to deal with as Vincent Kompany remains sidelined while there has been bad news regarding the condition of both Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero in recent days. Mendy’s injury is as bad as first feared unfortunately meaning the Frenchman will be ruled out until April with ACL damage. Meanwhile, Aguero was involved in a car accident in Amsterdam on his day off on Thursday and the tenacious striker has suffered a broken rib. Both Guardiola and indeed Conte were simply thankful that the injuries to Aguero weren’t more serious, and though the length of time the Argentine will be out for is yet to be confirmed, he won’t be available for this one.
Of course, City’s impressive squad depth means there are strong replacements to fill in tonight’s starting eleven, with Gabriel Jesus likely to lead the line in place of Aguero while Fabian Delph is a make-shift alternative to Mendy at left-back but performed strongly in that position against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek. Ilkay Gundogan has also returned to first team action recently after a long spell out with injury, news that has been welcomed by all Premier League fans such is the ability and likeable personality of the City midfielder.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
Antonio Conte was delighted with the performance of his team in Spain on Wednesday night but insists his players must stay focused for what will be a very difficult evening at Stamford Bridge. The Italian has heaped praise on Guardiola who he claims is one of the best managers around, and remembers how hard Chelsea had to work to pick up points against City last season.
Pep Guardiola has returned that praise and is wary of a Chelsea side he believes to be among the best in Europe. The City manager was in a spiky mood for his press conference, perhaps understandably given the Aguero news broke that morning, and is no doubt eager to ensure that his team don’t waste the incredible start they have had like they did last season. Thus far things could hardly have gone better for Guardiola, but he insists the current standings are irrelevant at such an early stage in the campaign.
Both sides will have to slightly adapt their style of play given the dangers they each pose, meaning this game is unlikely to see City score as many goals as they have been of late. Chelsea are on a roll at the moment and having Hazard back is a huge lift and I think they are the more likely side to get a win today as a result. That said, I think Guardiola will be desperate to avoid a defeat tonight in order to demonstrate the resilience and big game know-how that City somewhat lacked last season. I’m going with 1-1.