Biggest test for Sarri as stuttering Chelsea hosts City
loNDoN (Reuters) – It has taken less than two weeks for the optimism generated by a 12-match unbeaten start to Maurizio sarri’s reign at stamford Bridge to fizzle out and this weekend the Italian faces his biggest test to date when Manchester City visit.
In fairness to the former Napoli manager, he stressed throughout the heady days of early Autumn that Chelsea was not equipped to challenge City for the title and ahead of saturday’s clash between the sides a 10-point gap has opened up.
on tuesday, pep Guardiola’s City maintained a searing pace at the top with a win against Watford. twenty four hours later Chelsea went down 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers – its second defeat in three premier league games.
sarri said his side had only played well for 55 minutes at Wolves and knows it will have to be at full tilt for 90 minutes on saturday evening if it is to have any chance of halting the City juggernaut.
“Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four,” sarri said after the setback at Wolves.
“City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world. they can win the Champions league.”
juergen Klopp’s liverpool, who like City are unbeaten, started without Roberto Firmino, Mohamed salah and sadio Mane at Burnley on Wednesday but still won 3-1.
With a huge must-win Champions league game coming up next week against Napoli, Klopp may well gamble on squad rotation as his side travels to seventh-place Bournemouth for saturday’s early kickoff.
Victory for liverpool would take it top, at least until City’s later clash with Chelsea.
third-place tottenham hotspur will also have a massive Champions league night on their minds when they travel to leicester City on saturday evening.
Fifth-place Arsenal has no such concerns as it hosts huddersfield town on saturday looking to extend its unbeaten run across all competitions to 21 matches.
Manchester united, which is 18 points behind leader City and eight adrift of fourth-place Chelsea after three successive draws, is at home to bottom club Fulham.
united boss jose Mourinho has made 46 changes to his starting lineup already this season and all eyes will be on his selection again as he comes face to face with the original “tinkerman” Claudio Ranieri, now at the helm at Fulham.
Mourinho left record signing paul pogba on the bench for Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal and also started without Romelu lukaku, but goal-scorer Anthony Martial picked up an injury against Arsenal and is a major doubt to face Fulham.
Also on saturday, Burnley hosts Brighton and hove Albion while new southampton boss manager Ralph hasenhuttl will be in the dugout for the first time as his side takes on fellow struggler Cardiff City.
West ham united will be seeking a third consecutive win when it hosts Crystal palace in a london derby.
On TV: English Premier League Round 16:
Saturday: AFC Bournemouth vs liverpool (live on sport 1 at 2:30 p.m.); Arsenal vs huddersfield town (live on sport 1 at 5 p.m.); Manchester united vs Fulham (live on sport 2 at 5 p.m.); Chelsea vs Manchester City (live on sport 1 at 7:30 p.m.). Sunday: Newcastle united vs Wolverhampton Wanderers (live on sport 1 at 6 p.m.).