Premier League | Stamford Bridge | Sat 31 Jan | 5:30pm
The title-decider. In January.
- Chelsea e1-0 Liverpool (LC)
- Chelsea 2-4 Bradford (FAC)
- Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea (LC)
- Swansea 0-5 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle (Prem)
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 0-2 M’brough (FAC)
- Man City 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Everton 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 2-1 Sheff Wed (FAC)
- Man City 3-2 S’land (Prem)
It seems faintly ridiculous to brand any match as the season-settler when the transfer window’s still open – we’re not Sky, after all – but if Chelsea beat Manchester City this weekend, that could be it for the 2014/15 title race. The Blues already lead the, uh, Sky Blues (must get working on those nicknames) by five points and a hefty goal difference... difference. An eight-point gap would surely be too big to overcome.
Both teams face difficulties ahead of the match. It’s not quite The Dog & Duck vs The Red Lion, but Chelsea can’t call on lairy line-leader Diego Costa – and face further personnel doubts, detailed below – while Manchester City are deprived of talismanic titan Yaya Toure.
Furthermore, neither side is in a rich vein, artery or even capillary of form. Both have just exited the FA Cup in embarrassing fashion, not that Jose Mourinho or Manuel Pellegrini seemed to be particularly cut up about it, and City haven’t won a match in coming up to four weeks.
Chelsea, too, have gone three games without winning inside 90 minutes. It’s the first time that has happened since August/September 2013, when a returning Mourinho still had jet lag. None of those matches were in the Premier League, though, where the league leaders responded to a 5-3 defeat to Tottenham by putting seven past Newcastle and Swansea with no reply.
Win, and the trophy is virtually theirs. Lose, and City are breathing down their necks. For dramatic purposes, let’s just pretend there’s no such thing as a draw.
The biggest absence will be Costa, banned pending appeal for stamping on literally 25 different Liverpool players. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s physios face a number of questions, along the lines of “Will Cesc Fabregas be fit?”, “What about Branislav Ivanovic?” and “Is this a pimple or a boil?”
There are fitness worries over no fewer than five players: Fabregas (hamstring), Ivanovic (foot), Andre Schürrle (back), Filipe Luis (front) and John Obi Mikel (gnawing sense of self-doubt). We’d love to give you an update on those, but Chelsea have cancelled their pre-match press conference for reasons absolutely nothing to do with petulance towards the Football Association over Costa’s suspension. None.
City are without Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony, both still with the Ivorian national team in Equatorial Guinea (not that they’d have been back in time to play anyway, barring a rom-com airport dash). Samir Nasri won’t be available for another week or two, Eliaquim Mangala is having tests on his groin and Scott Sinclair may be at Aston Villa on loan by the weekend, which will be a devastating blow to City, for sure.
Key battle: Didier Drogba vs Vincent Kompany
City are missing two Ivorian powerhouses but Chelsea still have theirs. Drogba is likely to lead the line, and it’s one of the biggest games of the season for the 36-year-old.
Fortunately, Drogba is fond of the big stage, and this season has been far more than a cheerleader to bring on with a few seconds remaining (though admittedly, that does still happen). His only two league starts this season have come against Manchester United and Tottenham, and he scored in both.
Obviously continuing that scoring run would help, but it’s also vital that he provides plenty of movement up front in this match. Kompany doesn’t mind a physical battle – which will likely make up much of this personal duel – but the City captain can be caught on the back foot by players making intelligent runs; see, for example, the penalty he conceded against Nacho Monreal in his team’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal.
Drogba should also look to exploit Kompany’s other main weakness: his tendency to jump in and concede fouls outside the box. With Chelsea offering numerous different threats from free-kicks, drawing a foul in the right place could even make the difference.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 1-1 Chelsea (PL, Sep 14)
- City 2-0 Chelsea (FAC, Feb 14)
- City 0-1 Chelsea (PL, Feb 14)
- Chelsea 2-1 City (PL, Oct 13)
- Chelsea 1-2 City (FAC, Apr 13)
Pellegrini v Mourinho is one of the more intriguing managerial battles of wills, wits and wibbling. The verbal jousting is largely one-way, though. For the most part, Pellegrini has chosen to rise above the Special One’s barbs, which have included: “He is an engineer and doesn’t need a calculator to work it out” (on Chelsea’s spending); “Second is just first among losers” (on Pellegrini’s only season with Real Madrid, which preceded Mourinho finishing second twice in three seasons); “He killed Mark Clattenburg” (on Mark Clattenburg) and “If Madrid fired me, I wouldn’t go to Malaga – I’d go to a top-level team in Italy or England” (on generally being a tosspot).
Given that Mourinho has been even more irascible and moody than usual this season, expect that list to grow after Saturday even if Chelsea win.
Facts and figures
- Mourinho has won 7 and lost just 2 of the 11 meetings as a coach with Pellegrini.
- No team has beaten City more often in the Premier League than Chelsea (22 wins, same as Arsenal).
- 64% of the goals City have conceded have come in the second half, the highest proportion in top flight.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A close one – neither team have scored more than two goals in nearly five years of league meetings. That day, Frank Lampard scored two for the losing side. This time: one goal, one muted celebration, 2-1 Chelsea.
Back 2-1 at 17/2 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication