Manchester City will be looking to tighten their grip on fourth spot when they travel to Stamford Bridge to take on mid-table Chelsea this weekend (5.30pm Saturday, Sky Sports 1).
City’s 1-0 triumph over Paris Saint-Germain sent them through to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time on Tuesday, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side (pictured) cannot afford to lose focus in the top flight if they want to guarantee their place in next season’s edition of Europe’s primary continental club competition.
Currently four points ahead of rivals Manchester United and five above West Ham United, wins against Chelsea on Saturday and Newcastle United on Tuesday could be enough to virtually wrap up a top-four placing depending on results elsewhere. That’s a situation that would afford them the luxury of resting players ahead of their two-legged last-four tie in late April and early May. They may yet win the Champions League and therefore qualify automatically next year as holders, but City will not want to take that risk, particularly as the remaining three sides – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – are all extremely strong adversaries.
Tenth-placed Chelsea, meanwhile, do not have anything of note left to play for. Their 1-0 defeat to Swansea City last Saturday was their first loss since interim boss Guus Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho in the dugout in December. While Chelsea will therefore want to return to winning ways against a team they have battled with for the Premier League title in recent years, it is difficult to envisage there being the same urgency in their play as there would be if there was an attainable objective in reach.
Chelsea will definitely be without John Terry (Achilles), Loic Remy (groin) and Kurt Zouma (knee) on Saturday, although Willian, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill could all be involved following respective injury lay-offs of their own. Matt Miazga will be hoping to keep his place in the XI, as will fellow January Alexandre Pato, who belatedly made his debut against Aston Villa earlier this month. Thibaut Courtois could be restored to the line-up after being dropped for the 1-0 loss to Swansea last time out, with youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek likely to retain his place in the Chelsea midfield.
Pellegrini, meanwhile, is unlikely to be able to call upon the services of Raheem Sterling (groin) and captain Vincent Kompany (calf), although both players could be included on the substitutes’ bench. Samir Nasri will be hoping to start after his man-of-the-match display against West Bromwich Albion last weekend, while Yaya Toure’s return to fitness could see him included alongside either Fernando, Fernandinho or Fabian Delph in the centre of midfield. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy will probably get the nod ahead of Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov at full-back, with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva also likely to be involved from the first whistle.
Taking everything into account, it is probably worth backing a Manchester City victory at Stamford Bridge this weekend, which can be backed at best odds of 7/4 with Betfred. The champions have nothing to play for in the remaining weeks and have begun rotating their side heavily as they prepare for the summer arrival of Antonio Conte. Man City, conversely, need the points in the race for the top four and are likely to take this match more seriously than their opponents. Pellegrini’s men will move into third with a victory – at least until Arsenal take on Crystal Palace a day later – with the odds on a 2-1 triumph very favourable indeed. Fresh from his winner against PSG at the Etihad Stadium in midweek, De Bruyne looks to be the best option for first goalscorer. So this preview’s betting tips are: