As yet another exciting weekend of Premier League football awaits, get John Dykes’ thoughts on how things might play-out right here.
Some may try and diminish the significance of this Saturday’s showdown in Manchester by disparagingly calling it “El Gasico” in reference to the provenance of City and Chelsea’s resources, but it really is the biggest clash of the season so far.
A win for Chelsea at the Etihad – their first in five league encounters – may just see them installed as title favourites. If City get back to winning ways, after three straight home draws, then we are in for a huge title battle. A draw suits Liverpool and Arsenal and would cement my belief that this is going to be the best title race we have seen in the Premier League era.
Many pundits are tipping Antonio Conte’s team to win and it’s easy to see why: Conte has arrived at a winning formula, the results have been exemplary and there are still one or two question marks against City.
So, where will it be won and lost?
Well, a settled side has to be a positive but Chelsea’s predictable starting XI (unchanged for the seventh game in a row?) does allow the opposition to put some solid tactical planning in place. Make no mistake, Pep Guardiola is renowned for his detailed analysis of opponents and he has been focused on this game for some time.
He knows it will be an energy-sapping challenge and he gave his players Monday and Tuesday off training. Also, in playing Yaya Toure in the last two league games, he gave Ilkay Gundogan a rest so he can resume his partnership with Fernandinho in full fitness. If they do start, City will possess a more attack-minded midfield duo than Chelsea’s formidable N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic, who are going to be tasked with dropping in and helping the defense cope with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.
It’s almost unthinkable that a side containing Sergio Aguero (he’s scored five goals in his last four league starts, 18 in his last 17, and four in two against Chelsea) may not have the most threatening attack but City’s defence could be the one that struggles to cope.
They have only stopped the opposition scoring in three of their last 20 games in major competitions and look vulnerable whenever the centre halves are pulled out wide. Conte’s use of Moses and Alonso to open up space for Hazard, Pedro and Costa will have preoccupied Guardiola lately. Plus, can Stones and Otamendi cope with Costa when he takes them on directly?
So, Chelsea have a great chance but don’t forget that City will enjoy far more of the ball. When they have it, they possess the quality in attacking areas to open up any team in Europe.
Briefly, Arsenal and Liverpool should win, Spurs must win against Swansea and Manchester United will again need to produce midweek form on a weekend. The absolute must-win of the round? Leicester at Sunderland. Having taken just one point from West Brom Watford and Middlesbrough, they must do better against David Moyes’ men.