Manchester City are set to face Chelsea in a showdown at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, as they look to remain top of the Premier League table and keep the pressure on struggling title rivals Liverpool.
Pep Guardiola’s City are coming off the back of two straight wins, including an impressive 3-1 victory over Arsenal last weekend, which have seen them return to the league summit after an absence stretching back to mid-December.
Leading the table on goal difference while having played a game more than Liverpool, City will look to prolong their stay in top spot with a win this weekend, heaping pressure on Jürgen Klopp’s increasingly beleaguered Reds, as the title race enters an exhilarating climax.
Maurizio Sarri’s side are in a strange spot of form themselves - an encouraging 5-0 triumph over Huddersfield Town last time out was preceded directly by a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of AFC Bournemouth. With crippling inconsistency marring much of the Blues’ season thus far, Sarri will look for a victory at the Etihad to kickstart a run of wins for his side.
With Manchester United breathing down their necks in 5th, Chelsea and Sarri know just how crucial a positive result against City could be in the race for a top 4, and a UEFA Champions League spot.
Full strength City seek vengeance against Blues
With Chelsea sinking two goals without reply past a bedraggled City side at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, Guardiola will be out for revenge against the side who has beaten him most frequently since he took over at the club. With Chelsea historically having proved a thorn in City’s side, Sunday’s clash will be by no means a walkover for the reigning champions.
“You see the midfield players, the strikers, the best strikers in the world are there,” Pep told Sky Sports ahead of kick-off. “The midfield players are the best in the world. A good keeper. Experienced defenders. Good organisation defensive, offensive. They know exactly what they want to do.”
With this fixture proving absolutely pivotal in City’s season, defeat, or even failure to win, could seriously damage their chances of snatching the Premier League title from Liverpool. Having played away at Everton in midweek, the fixtures are beginning to pile up for the Citizens, who need to stave off both physical and mental fatigue if they are to have a run at the title this season. On that note, Pep is desperate to get his charges in the right frame of mind.
“I have a lot of respect. The game on Sunday is a final for us. I want to feel that it's an absolute final for us and we need to play in that way”.
Barring long-term absentees Claudio Bravo, Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany, City have no injury concerns ahead of the fixture.
Manchester City Predicted XI: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Laporte; Fernandinho, David Silva, De Bruyne; Bernardo Silva, Aguero, Sterling.
Pressure on for Chelsea as top 4 race hots up
Despite the obvious importance of this fixture to City’s title chances, Chelsea face a race of their own, with United’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeing them move to within 2 points of the Blues in 4th. With a UEFA Europa League victory not looking like a formality for Chelsea this season, Sarri will be desperate to secure Champions League football for next term by finishing in the top 4. The Italian, however, is under no illusions as to the task facing them this Sunday.
“At the moment Manchester City are the best team in Europe,” he told Sky. “I think we were lucky (in December), because we scored in a very difficult moment of the match. In that match we defended really very well because they had only three goal opportunities, no more.”
With the former S.S.C. Napoli tactician aware that despite the win, a similar showing might not suffice at the Etihad, it remains to be seen how he sets up his side at the home of the champions, who have been beaten there just once all season. It should be noted that unlike last time out, Chelsea now have a proven goalscorer in their ranks in the form of Gonzalo Higuain, who netted twice against Huddersfield and will be looking to continue his rich vein of form.
In a timely boost for the Blues, Antonio Rüdiger looks set to make his return from injury, with Andreas Christensen likely to make way. Callum Hudson-Odoi meanwhile has been sidelined with a fever, so it remains to be seen whether he is even included amongst the substitutes.
Chelsea Predicted XI: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Higuain, Hazard.
With this game likely to go down to the wire, it looks set to be a high-voltage contest between the Premier League’s two most successful teams in the past decade. Neither side can afford to drop points, and we look to be in for a cracker at the Etihad Stadium this Sunday.