A highly-anticipated top-of-the-table clash kicks off the Premier League action on Saturday, as Manchester City welcome closest challengers Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium for a lunchtime battle.
Pep Guardiola’s men currently sit 10 points clear of their upcoming opponents in the standings, with another defeat for the Blues seemingly rendering their title charge impossible.
When even Pep Guardiola admits that his side probably should have come up second best on the day, Man City were certainly counting their lucky stars against Arsenal, who ultimately suffered a 2-1 defeat in a controversy-filled encounter on New Year’s Day.
Riyad Mahrez and Rodri’s efforts cancelled out a first-half opener from Bukayo Saka as Mikel Arteta once again fell to his former master, and while the champions surprised some by putting out an incredibly strong team for the FA Cup amid a COVID-19 cluster, it ensured City’s progress with a 4-1 success over Swindon Town last Friday.
The victory over Ben Garner’s outfit was Man City’s seventh in a row across all competitions as the Premier League table-toppers seek to extend their lead at the summit, and the returning Etihad faithful ought to be treated to quite the spectacle for their first home game of 2022.
Guardiola’s relentless crop have come up trumps in each of their last seven games at home across all tournaments – including each of their last five in the Premier League – and even without a recognised striker for much of the campaign, City have still averaged at least three goals per Premier League game at the Etihad.
In total, the reigning champions have strung together an 11-game winning streak in the Premier League, although they can take nothing for granted against title-challenging opponents buoyed by reaching a mid-season cup final.
There was not a shred of sentimentality towards Antonio Conte as the Tottenham Hotspur boss reunited with former club Chelsea for the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Wednesday, as the Blues got the job done in North London to advance to the final.
The decision to drop Hugo Lloris in favour of Pierluigi Gollini did not go down too well with the Spurs fanbase, and it was a call that ultimately did not pay dividends, as the Italian failed to meet Mason Mount’s corner and Antonio Rudiger headed home to ensure a 3-0 aggregate success.
A shot at glory against either Liverpool or Arsenal awaits the Blues next month, but keeping their fleeting title hopes alive is currently the main aim for Thomas Tuchel’s side, who are at risk of falling 13 points behind City with defeat at the Etihad.
The Blues could also finish the weekend in third should Liverpool get the better of Brentford a day later, but they have excelled away from home amid a batch of Stamford Bridge stalemates – winning six of their last eight top-flight games on rival turf and conceding a league-low six goals in such games.
Gabriel Jesus was Man City’s saviour in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, but not since the 2017-18 campaign have the champions done the double over Chelsea, who marched to a 2-1 success at the Etihad last term.
Manchester City Premier League form:
Manchester City form (all competitions):
Chelsea Premier League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
We say: Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea
Even if Man City are unable to recover some of their unnamed players from COVID-19 infection, Guardiola’s side are refreshed, a force to be reckoned with at home and need no added incentive to all but extinguish the Blues’ title hopes.
Chelsea ought to be buoyed by two professional performances against Tottenham, but Man City away is a whole different kettle of fish, and we expect fatigue to work against the Blues as the champions extend their lead at the top.