Manchester City are very much back in the Premier League title race ahead of a potentially difficult encounter at home to Chelsea on Sunday (4pm, live on Sky Sports).
Chelsea were 2-0 winners when the two sides met at Stamford Bridge in December thanks to goals from N’Golo Kante and David Luiz late into each half. It still represents one of only two times in their 39 matches in all competitions this season that Man City have failed to score.
That was the beginning of an eight-match run in which City lost ground on Liverpool in the battle for the title. Despite defeating Liverpool when the two sides met at the Etihad in early January, Man City gave up six points to their primary challengers during that period, turning a two-point advantage at the top of the table into a four-point deficit.
When City went down 1-2 away to Newcastle last Tuesday, it seemed the stage was set for Liverpool to open up an imposing seven-point advantage. Not only did they fail to do so, drawing 1-1 at home to Leicester City, but they again dropped points last weekend in a draw by the same score away to West Ham. Combined with Man City’s 3-1 win over Arsenal, in which Sergio Aguero scored a hat-trick, it saw the gap reduce to just three points.
City’s comfortable 2-0 win away to Everton on Wednesday in an out-of-step fixture then saw them move level at the top, ahead on goal difference, albeit having now played one more match. Regardless, it provides a potential psychological advantage, particularly given that Liverpool’s make-up fixture is away at Manchester United later this month.
After a stellar start to the season in which they threatened to blow everyone away, City don’t quite carry that same sheen of invincibility at this stage of the campaign. They are still a very good side, the Premier League’s best in terms of underlying numbers, and will approach the final stretch of the season without some of the emotional baggage that surrounds Liverpool’s pursuit of a first league title in nearly 30 years.
It has been an interesting couple of months at Chelsea. Since the turn of the calendar year, they have progressed to the final of the Carabao Cup – where they will meet Man City later this month – and the fifth round of the FA Cup. They are still inside the top four in the league, two points clear of Manchester United in fifth. The mood around the club should be positive, but it doesn’t feel that way.
That is partly because they have lost two of their last three in the Premier League, including a 0-4 defeat away to Bournemouth at the end of January that was only partially made up for by their own 5-0 thrashing of Huddersfield last weekend. Also, coach Maurizio Sarri has questioned the motivation of his players more than once in recent interviews.
Like any coach so faithful to his ideas, Sarri will always first look to his players’ interpretation of his system, rather than the system itself, when the time comes to apportion blame. While his very particular brand of almost mechanised attacking football has yielded an improvement on last season’s results under Antonio Conte, he is walking a tightrope in terms of squad morale in an era in which player power is becoming ever more evident.
Chelsea are still a good side, and the January arrival of Gonzalo Higuain, who scored twice in the win over Huddersfield, has provided Sarri with the central goal threat he previously felt was lacking. They probably remain marginal favourites to beat Man Utd and Arsenal to fourth and are still involved in all three of the cup competitions in which they began the campaign. Yet Sarri’s position still feels less stable than it should.
What was interesting in the first meeting between these sides this season was that Chelsea took a much more defensively minded approach than City and Guardiola were clearly expecting from them. The two matches between his Man City side and Sarri’s Napoli in last season’s Champions League were open, back-and-forth encounters with plenty of goals, but at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea sat deep, soaked up pressure and hit City on the break.
One would imagine that will again be the template this weekend, but it is unlikely to be successful for a second time. With the title race very much back on, City can be expected to maintain the pressure on Liverpool by securing all three points on Sunday.
Our Preview’s Man City vs Chelsea Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Manchester City to win in a game in which Sergio Aguero scores @ 11/8 with Boylesports. This is their ‘score and win’ market on the game.
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