Saturday 31st January – 17:30 – Stamford Bridge
It’s only the end of January, but Manchester City’s visit to Chelsea tomorrow could decide who lifts the Premier League trophy come May. The two teams are locked in a battle at the top, with only a few weeks ago the only thing separating them was alphabetical order. The Blues currently sit top of the table after winning their last two league games, including an emphatic 5-0 win at Swansea last time out. City haven’t won in their last two league games though, and lost 2-0 at home to Arsenal two weeks ago. Both teams suffered shock home defeats in the FA Cup last weekend, with Jose Mourinho seeing one of his teams concede four goals in a home game for the first time ever against Bradford last weekend in a 4-2 defeat. Meanwhile, Manuel Pellegrini’s side slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Middlesborough. Chelsea’s spirits were lifted in midweek though at they progressed to the Capital One Cup final after a 2-1 aggregate win over Liverpool. But both teams are still looking to get back on track, but with some key players expecting to be missing (see team news), this title decider is right in the balance. But whatever the result tomorrow, expect plenty of twists and turns right up until the final kick on May 24th.
The Key Battle: Eden Hazard vs Pablo Zabaleta
The main surprise with Zabaleta’s sending off in September against City was that it wasn’t for a foul on Eden Hazard. The Chelsea winger is as tricky as they come and has already completed 106 dribbles in the Premier League so far this season – 30 more than anyone else.
With Zabaleta having made more tackles than any other City player, placing him among the top 10 in the country, this should be another fascinating battle.
In the corresponding fixture last season, Hazard had Zabaleta worried throughout – even memorably causing the Argentine to do the splits when bamboozling him with his twists and turns. But it was the full-back who had the better of things in the World Cup quarter-final last summer, Hazard being substituted, so this is far from a one-sided contest.
Such is Hazard’s creative importance to Chelsea – he’s fashioned more chances from open play than any Premier League player this season – how Zabaleta deals with the Belgian could be a decisive factor in the result.
- As I write, Diego Costa’s availability for Chelsea depends on today’s appeal against his violent conduct charge for his stamp on Emre Can in the League Cup against Liverpool on Tuesday.
- Cesc Fabregas, Branislav Ivanovic and Filipe Luis were all injured in that game and only Ivanovic is expected to feature.
- If Costa loses his appeal, it will be either Loic Remy or Didier Drogba to take his place as the lone striker.
- Manuel Pellegrini gave Willy Caballero and Dedryck Boyata chances in the FA Cup loss to Middlesborough, but Joe Hart and Martin Demichelis should replace the pair.
- Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri missed that game with groin and calf injuries and are still out of action.
- Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony are both unavailable because Ivory Coast have progressed into the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
Chelsea wins = 57 / Manchester City wins = 47 / Draws = 38
Last Meeting: Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea (21st September 2014)
Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer Frank Lampard returned to haunt his old club with the late equaliser that gave Manchester City a point at Etihad Stadium. Lampard – on loan at City from New York City FC – wrote his name into Chelsea folklore with 211 goals in 648 appearances for the Stamford Bridge club. And he added another dramatic chapter to his illustrious story when he slid home a strike with five minutes left after Andre Schurrle looked to have scored the goal that would have given Chelsea an eight-point advantage over the reigning Premier League champions. City will feel they deserved a point after battling back into contention following the second-half sending-off of defender Pablo Zabaleta following a tussle with Chelsea striker Diego Costa.
Stat of the Match
Manchester City are the only team to score in every away Premier League match this season. Their average of 2.27 goals per away league game is a league-high.
Where can I watch it?
The match will be shown live on Sky Sports 1 from 4:45pm tomorrow, with kick-off at 5:30pm. Highlights will then be shown on BBC One’s Match of the Day at 10:30pm.
My Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City
It’s highly unlikely that Diego Costa will win his appeal, so the Blues will obviously be lacking his quality up front. City meanwhile have a poor record when Yaya Toure has been absent, but both teams still have plenty of talent in the rest of the squad, with Eden Hazard and Sergio Aguero likely to be game changers. I expect both to score in a tightly fought game at Stamford Bridge.