Man City vs Chelsea preview: An almost-too-early title showdown?

Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Sun 16 Aug | 4pm

Billed as

A Premier League title battle with a dollop of touchline tension.

MAN CITY FORM

  • WBA 0-3 Man City (Prem)
  • Stuttgart 4-2 Man City (F)
  • Vietnam 1-8 Man City (F)
  • Real Madrid 4-1 Man City (F)
  • Roma 2-2p Man City (F)

CHELSEA FORM

  • Chelsea 2-2 Swansea (Prem)
  • Chelsea 0-1 Fiorentina (F)
  • Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (C Shield)
  • Chelsea p2-2 Barcelona (F)
  • PSG 1-1p Chelsea (F)

The lowdown

It won’t always be that easy. 

When Manchester City sauntered past West Brom at The Hawthorns on Monday night, it was as if the competitive season had yet to arrive. David Silva strolled through midfield like a tourist taking in the summer air; Joe Hart worked on his tan (until the sun finally dipped a few minutes into the game); Raheem Sterling strutted down the touchline without breaking sweat. Despite this being the opening fixture of their respective campaigns, Tony Pulis’ side mustered all the resistance of a veterans’ XI in a pre-season friendly. City’s 3-0 victory could have easily been doubled. 

Manuel Pellegrini’s next opponents are champions Chelsea, who endured a start nearly as chastening as the beating suffered by West Brom. Their 2-2 home draw against Swansea was modest, but a point arrived with some unsettling developments. Thibaut Courtois’s dismissal for a rash challenge in his penalty area sees the goalkeeper suspended. And while Asmir Begovic is a competent stand-in, he lacks the Belgian’s commandeering presence.

More worrying was the way in which full-back Branislav Ivanovic failed to contain the incisive runs of Swansea’s Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero. Sterling is still finding his feet at City, but he will have studied Swansea’s touchline charges with interest. 

There is much to analyse on the benches, too. Diego Costa played for much of Saturday’s fixture without looking troubled by the supposed injury that had dogged him throughout the break. (Some gamesmanship on Jose’s part, perhaps?) Meanwhile, City sniper Sergio Aguero made a late appearance against West Brom, although whether he has regained enough match stamina to start will be cause for debate.

Sergio's in line to scare Chelsea's back four

And then we arrive at the men in charge. The kerfuffle surrounding Mourinho’s spat with physio Eva Carneiro has overshadowed the fact there’s little love lost between these two managers. A combination of league rivalry and subtle sniping has stiffened tensions between them over the years, with the last salvo being fired by Pelligrini in Chile’s El Mercurio newspaper.

"When he wins, Mourinho wants to take credit for everything," said the 61-year-old. "I never do that. When I won the league, I didn’t say a word. I don’t have any problem with Mourinho. He’s not my enemy and there isn’t any conflict – but I differ from him on all fronts. I have no interest in analysing him as a person."

Team news

For City, Gael Clichy is still under watch and new signing Fabian Delph is being nursed back to full fitness following a hamstring twang. Chelsea will be without Courtois despite appealing against his suspension. Their claims that Swansea striker Bafetimbi Gomis was not moving towards goal when the Belgian felled him didn’t hold any sway.

Courtois endured a nightmare opening day

Player to watch: Yaya Toure (Man City)

The Ivorian was imperious against West Brom following a lengthy break. At times last season he appeared jaded and lethargic, but the way he bullied Pulis’ midfield suggested a returning mojo; Toure’s strike - a 20-yard shot that arced into the top corner - was a training manual masterpiece. It'll be up to Nemanja Matic to shackle his movement, but he’ll have his hands full. On Monday, supported by a lively cast in Silva, Sterling and Jesus Navas, Toure was able to orchestrate City’s attacking intent with probing passes to the flanks. The way he dictated tempo and possession – particularly in the first half - suggested City might look to play another devastating game of keep-ball, should Chelsea fail to stifle his motion.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Chelsea 1-1 City (PL, Jan 15)
  • 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)

The managers

Mourinho is adamant that he has no regrets over the club’s decision to sell goalkeeper Petr Cech, despite Courtois’s suspension. "The problem with Petr is not that we miss him because we have two excellent keepers," he said. "Thibaut and Asmir are two fantastic keepers. My club did very well by getting a keeper on time and not on August 31 because if my club gives me a keeper on August 31 then we have a problem not just for today but also for the next match."

Like everyone else, Pellegrini was buoyed by Toure's performance against West Brom. "I always said last season it was a strange season for Yaya; he started with a lot of problems, the death of his brother, his agents. I think he was not focused on what he had to do last year. We spoke before the start of the season and I am very sure we will see the Yaya from two years ago. He is a very important player for us... it is very difficult for a player when you have so many problems."

Facts and figures

  • Chelsea have not lost any of their last 28 Premier League games in the month of August (W23 D5).
  • Since his debut in August 2010, David Silva has provided more Premier League assists than any other player (47).
  • Jose Mourinho has won 7 and lost just 2 of the 12 meetings as a coach with Manuel Pellegrini (D3).
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

A tactical battle, and a score draw. 1-1. 

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