The World Cup feels like a chapter in history, even though it’s been less than a month since it ended, as leagues around the world plunge headfirst into their hectic schedules.
The Premier League in particular has kicked off at a breakneck pace with matches gaining momentum since Boxing Day. La Liga is slowly but surely creeping into the collective conscience as Serie A awakens from its slumber on January 4 with an abundance of matches. This week’s big games come from England, however, as a second-placed Manchester City side take on a struggling Chelsea on Thursday night (1:30am IST, Friday). Then both sides will face each other again in three days, in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday.
Focused: Manchester City vs Chelsea (Premier League, Friday 1.30am; FA Cup Round 3, Sunday 10pm)
Set for City. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/zBDuQTvrnJ
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 4, 2023
Manchester City inexplicably dropped points against Everton in their final game when Erling Haaland’s strike was canceled out by Demarai Gray in the first half. Chelsea, who have not won in their last 8 games, also failed to beat Nottingham Forest, even after taking the lead and dominating most of the first half.
Both games felt like carbon copies of each other in that the traditional big teams (read Manchester City and Chelsea) looked like they had things well under control, only for their opponents to shift gears in the second half. Both Everton and Forest players, after a 1-0 defeat in the first half, came out in the next half like a man possessed. They snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat and to be fair, could have even walked away with a win. They used different tactics – Everton absorbed the pressure while Forest were keen to go on the attack.
Manchester City have been guilty of suddenly losing their grip on games this season after periods of dominance. It happened to Brentford before the World Cup resulting in a 2-1 defeat and it happened to Everton. Chelsea, meanwhile, are in poor form, winning just once in their last eight games. Before their Boxing Day victory against Bournemouth, The Blues had last won in the Premier League on 16 October. Since then they have lost to Brighton, Arsenal, Newcastle, Aston Villa (reverse match) and drawn with Brentford, Manchester United. and Nottingham Forest. You don’t have to be an expert to see that a double header against an injured city doesn’t bode well for Potter’s men.
One thing that plays in Chelsea’s favor is that the Premier League play at home at Stamford Bridge, where they have drawn three times and lost one in their last appearances. On the other hand, City’s away form has been pretty poor by their standards. They have drawn two, lost one and won two in their last five games on the road.
Chelsea’s season has been severely hampered by ongoing injuries to some of their top players with midfielder N’ Golo Kante, right-back Reece James, left-back James Chilwell, centre-back Wesley Fofana, forwards Armando Broja and Ruben Loftus Cheek all sidelined. One glimmer of hope for Chelsea is that Loftus Cheek may be able to return in time for their FA Cup tie against City on Sunday, but an EPL return against the Citizens looks highly unlikely. Manchester City, meanwhile, has no major injuries, except for defender Ruben Dias.
For Chelsea to get anything out of this game, they need to stop the marauding Haaland from scoring. To do this, they must close all channels from which he can get the ball. Usually it’s that pesky combination of Kevin de Bruyne and Halland, and could help displace the Belgian in midfield, but the Blues need to be wary of the other attacking threats lurking around every corner of the pitch. Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri and Jack Grealish all have a knack for finding spaces to send the ball to the Norwegian or scoring goals themselves. To put the brakes on City’s attack, Potter could turn to the double pivot in defensive midfield in Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, while Thiago Silva and Kalidou Koulibaly will have to play their hearts out in defense if Chelsea want a hint of chance to win .
Ex-City player Raheem Sterling will need to break free after a rather disappointing season so far and this will be the perfect opportunity for him to make his move. He knows the weakness of his old team and will be key in Chelsea’s quest to unlock City’s defence. Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic will probably start with him, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang coming on as a substitute.
Chelsea have lost their last three games against Manchester City, once this season when they were knocked out of the EFL Cup and twice last season when the Pep Guardiola-led side completed a league double over them. At its current form, it seems unlikely there will be any change in fortunes.