Ten points separate Chelsea and Manchester City, second and first, entering this weekend, and if we have any realistic hopes of maintaining at least a semblance of a title race, we probably need at least a draw, if not a win from Saturday’s trip to the Etihad. That might sound daunting, especially with City in imperious form, but we did win here last year — and of course beat them in the FA Cup and the Champions League as well.
In fact, since that ridiculous 6-0 beatdown of Sarri’s Blues in 2019, seven of the eight matches between these two sides have been decided by a single goal or less, including the last four, all under Tuchel’s guidance — Chelsea winning three in a row before the 0-1 reverse at the Bridge in September.
City have actually lost more games since then (4) than we have (2) in all competitions, but the “unnecessary draws”, to use Tuchel’s phrasing, have hurt us badly. We’re still alive, barely.
We’ve proven that we can compete with City over any given 90-minute period, so that’s what we’ll have to do once again, at the very least.
Date / Time: Saturday, January 15, 2022, 12.30 GMT; 7:30am EST; 6pm IST
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
Referee: Craig Pawson (on pitch); Darren England (VAR)
Forecast: Seasonably cold
On TV: BT Sport 1 (UK); none (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport Premier League, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BT Sport Live (UK); Peacock (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA) — yes, another instance of NBC trying to shove their Peacock down our throats; open wide for some soccer!
Manchester City team news: City have won 11 in a row, which is obviously impressive though nowhere near their own Premier League record of 18 (from 2017-18, which Liverpool then matched in 2019-20). That is to say, they’re not necessary “due” for a defeat anytime soon.
They might have a few squad issues to contend with however, with “some new COVID cases” following on from last weekend, when they had 21 players and staff in isolation, including Ederson, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho, Zinchenko, John Stones, and Jack Grealish. Pep Guardiola, part of that 21 but now back out, has been very secretive about it all, presumably to keep Chelsea and Tuchel guessing. Riyad Mahrez is however definitely not available as he’s at the Africa Cup of Nations.
City don’t have another tough game after this until like early April, when Liverpool come to town, so it’s up to us to try to stop this juggernaut.
View from the enemy: Bitter and Blue
Chelsea team news: In addition to long-term absentees Ben Chilwell (ACL), Reece James (hamstring), Trevoh Chalobah (hamstring), and Édouard Mendy (AFCON), Tuchel confirmed that Andreas Christensen has tested positive and will thus also miss this trip.
That could mean a repeat of the back-three we saw at the end of the match on Wednesday, with Antonio Rüdiger right and Malang Sarr left of Thiago Silva. Or perhaps we could again try a back-four, which seemed to be kryptonite for Conte (not that Spurs at all near City’s level). It’ll be also intriguing to see who starts up top, with Romelu Lukaku going the full-90 midweek and Kai Havertz not moving a muscle on the bench.
Since back-to-back losses to end September, to City and Juventus, we’ve lost just once in 24 games, and that on a fluke goal. We’ve now also won three on the bounce, albeit against low-quality opposition. We’re certainly going to have to play well for longer than the 50-55 minutes it required to beat Chesterfield and Tottenham.
Previously: Our last visit to the Etihad saw us come from behind to win 2-1, with Marcos Alonso scoring a 90th-minute winner. Loves a goal in a big game, that guy.