It was a refrain that started almost immediately after our last Premier League title win. We must close the gap. At the time, it was a gap to Manchester City and Liverpool. Now, it’s a gap to just City. And alas, while briefly narrowing in 2020-21, that gap overall has only gotten larger over the past six seasons.
I don’t imagine we’re going to close that gap this season. Maybe not next season either. But we can certainly chip away at it. Having lost six in a row to City in all competitions, scoring a grand total of zero goals in the process (yes, that’s a 0-6-0; 0:10 line), it won’t even take too much to make at least a tiny chip.
Mauricio Pochettino of course wants more. He wants his young charges to step up, to be the protagonists of our story. To start writing our story. CHAPTER ONE:
Date / Time: Sunday, November 12, 2023, 16.30 GMT; 11:30am EST; 10pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Anthony Taylor (on pitch); Jarred Gillett (VAR) — no, Taylor was not “demoted” though he did referee a round in the Championship last weekend (which all Premier League referees do occasionally)
Forecast: rain rain rain and more rain
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); USA, Telemundo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport Premier League, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Chelsea team news: We should be able to come into this game the healthiest we’ve been all season, after Enzo Fernández seems to have avoided any major damage from the tackle that forced him into an early exit on Monday. And things could get even better after the international break, with Christopher Nkunku and Roméo Lavia getting close to making their Chelsea debuts at long last!
This game will come a bit too soon for them however, while Ben Chilwell and Carney Chukwuemeka are a bit further behind. Wesley Fofana’s pretty much out for the rest of the season and Trevoh Chalobah’s unlikely to ever play for us again. Armando Broja faces a late fitness test. Still, now that our injury list is getting shorter, hopefully we can not only put together a consistent run of results and performances, but also turn our shocking home form around.
That might be a tough ask against City of course, but after taking down the league-leaders last time out, we certainly could have a chance.
Manchester City team news: City are City; what more needs to be said? They do seem to have the occasional blip, but they got that out of their system last month, with back-to-back defeats in the league to Wolves and Arsenal. They’ve rattled off five straight wins in all competitions since, scoring 17(!) goals — Erling Haaland with "only" seven of those personally — and conceding just three.
And City have done that without Kevin De Bruyne, who's been out since the first game of the season and probably will be out through the end of the calendar year at least, and also without John Stones, who’s set to miss a bit more time after picking up a new injury midweek. Stones, an important tempo-setter at the back for Guardiola, had only just returned from a hip problem that had limited him to just six appearances this season. Manual Akanji has also been ruled out: not that the likes of Rúben Dias, Joško Gvardiol, or Nathan Aké are bad options to call upon at center back (or left back).
Speaking of ex-Chelsea players, Mateo Kovačić has, unsurprisingly, fit in fairly seamlessly into City’s midfield. He’s second only to Rodri in minutes among midfielders ... though the real outstanding impact summer signing has been young Jérémy Doku, with the 21-year-old winger recently producing one of the performances of the Premier League season with 4 assists and 1 goal in a 6-1 win over Bournemouth.
So yes, City stay dominant even as they refresh the squad. Closing the gap will take a lot of effort, and planning, and execution ... and maybe some bad luck on their part.
Previously: As mentioned, the balance of recent history between these two is completely tilted in City’s favor, so let’s not mention that again.