Despite the constant ups and downs of the last few months, Chelsea remain in the top four, holding a two-point advantage over fifth place Manchester United and a three-point advantage over Arsenal in sixth. But the next match could see that all change again, as Chelsea take on Manchester City away at the Etihad. It’s not one we’re expected to win, especially with City looking at it as a game that could make or break the rest of their league season as well.
Chelsea do have a clean bill of health heading into the match, as head coach Maurizio Sarri revealed at Friday’s pre-match press conference.
“We had only some little problems, with Callum Hudson-Odoi. He had fever, but only for one day. Yesterday we had a little problem with Gary Cahill, with his back. I think every player will be available for this match. I hope so. I don’t know. We have to do another two training sessions.”
City and Chelsea may have different objectives for the rest of the season — City are looking to become the first team in a decade to defend a Premier League title; Chelsea are just hoping to defend a top four finish for the first time since 2015 — but we’re also just on different points of similar pathways, with City well ahead of course.
“No, at the moment, I don’t think [Chelsea are in contention for the league title]. I think we will be able to fight for the top four this season. No more, I think. We can win something of course, but in Premier League there is a fight between Liverpool and Manchester City.”
“At the moment Manchester City, in my opinion, is the best team in Europe. I know very well it’s very difficult to win the Champions League, because if you have to play in the Premier League it’s very difficult to get to the final in other competitions. At the moment, in my opinion, they are the best team in Europe.”
To catch up, as far as Sarri’s concerned, Chelsea need to work. Whatever may or may not happen in the transfer market, there’s no improvement without work.
“[To get close to City and Liverpool] I think we need to work. Guardiola is in the third season in Premier League, Klopp in the fourth or fifth, I can’t remember. I think we need to work. You are the more competitive in the market, or you have to work.”
“I don’t know another way. I think we need only to work and we have to try to reduce the gap, because at the moment there is a gap. We have to work, only to work.”
But in the context of just 90 minutes, anything can happen. City may beat Chelsea more often than not, but as we showed in the first meeting this season, the Blues are quite capable of beating “the best team in Europe” ... even if we did get a bit lucky. And played a bit more like the Chelsea of old than the Chelsea that Sarri’s trying to create.
But, as ever, it’s goals that win games and goals (and missed goals) that change games. We saw that not only in that first meeting, but quite famously in our last win at the Etihad, in the title-winning season under Antonio Conte, when Kevin De Bruyne missed an absolute sitter to put City 2-0 up, and they would instead go on to lose 3-1.
“I think we were lucky, because we scored in a very difficult moment of the match, maybe that we deserved to win in the second half. But I think we were lucky in the first half, because we scored in a difficult moment.”
”I think in that match we defended really very well, because they had only three goal opportunities, no more. It’s not easy against Manchester City to give them only three, four opportunities. At home, I think they’ve scored 43 goals in 15 matches. More than three on average. It’s very difficult. We need to defend really very well.”
“We need to be very fast when we are able to recover the ball, because the first lost ball they are able to press really, really very well so it’s very difficult to exit that situation. If we will be able to do it, I think we can find spaces. But it is very difficult.”
It’s a massive game on a massive occasion with massive stakes. Presumably, Chelsea will have no problem finding motivation and playing with the proper mentality (and, also presumably, Sarri won’t approach the game with his usual idealism) but it’s hard to truly know which Chelsea will show up based on the inconsistencies of the past few months (past few years?).
“In the last match we reacted really very well, so after the match against Huddersfield I was really very happy with the result, especially with the performance.”
“Now we know very well we need consistency. I hope our version on Sunday will be the best.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
So say we all!