Can Manch­ester City Safely Cross Chelsea’s Bridge?

THISDAY - - GLOBAL SOCCER -

Chelsea would be hop­ing to bounce back from mid-week de­feat to Wolves as they wel­come Premier League lead­ers-Manch­ester City to Stam­ford Bridge to­day. The Blue have slipped to fourth po­si­tion on the ta­ble af­ter two de­feats in less than two weeks and would be hop­ing to get back to win­ning ways with the visit of the Cit­i­zens, who are yet to taste de­feat in the 14week old Premier League

helsea wel­come the Premier League cham­pi­ons to Stam­ford Bridge in to­day’s late kick-off in an­other big clash at the top of the ta­ble. The Blues has slipped to fourth in the top-flight hav­ing only won one of their last four fix­tures and face a huge task to get any­thing from this week­end’s block­buster.

Sarri say Pep Guardi­ola’s un­beaten City, who have won 13 of their 15 games this term, are the best team go­ing. “Manch­ester City are in an­other cat­e­gory. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four. The re­sult is very dif­fi­cult for this, be­cause I know in ev­ery match you have to gain points. In the last cham­pi­onship in Italy I lost Serie A with 91 points, so I know very well you have to gain points in ev­ery match. City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world,” he said.

Chelsea lost 2-1 at Wolves on Wed­nes­day night de­spite go­ing ahead af­ter 18 min­utes thanks to Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek.

“We played very well for 55 min­utes. Af­ter their first goal, that was an ac­ci­dent be­cause we were in full control of the match, we were sud­denly an­other team, with­out the right dis­tances and with­out our foot­ball. I don’t know why. I am very wor­ried, not with the re­sult, but for the fact we didn’t re­act to the first goal of the op­po­nent. We didn’t re­act at all. I wor­ried about this,” Sarri added.

Sarri made a host of changes for the trip to Mo­lineux but the Ital­ian doesn’t re­gret rest­ing the likes of Jorginho, Pe­dro and David Luiz.

He said: “If you asked me af­ter 55 min­utes I would say yes, I am re­ally very happy. Then we lost ev­ery­thing: our foot­ball, the re­sult, ev­ery­thing, for an ac­ci­dent, a goal. It can hap­pen. I don’t think it de­pends on the changes; it de­pends on the men­tal­ity of the team. We can lose a match, but not with­out a re­ac­tion.”

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 were not equipped to chal­lenge City for the ti­tle and ahead of to­day’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 – their sec­ond de­feat in three Premier League games.

Sarri said his side had only played well for 55 min­utes at Wolves and knows they will have to be at full tilt for 90 min­utes this evening if they are to have any chance of halt­ing the City jug­ger­naut.

He said he ex­pects a “big re­ac­tion” to­day but al­ready ap­pears to have set­tled for a top-four scrap along with Lon­don ri­vals Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and Arse­nal rather than chas­ing down Liver­pool and cham­pi­ons City.

“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.”

“English foot­ball has an ex­cep­tional hold­ing mid­fielder,” said Pep Guardi­ola in Au­gust. If he had got his way, that out­stand­ing an­chor­man would be a City player. In­stead a player Guardi­ola was con­fi­dent of sign­ing will face them. Jorginho was reunited in­stead with Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. Rather than build­ing a side around the Italy in­ter­na­tional, the Cata­lan will in­stead at­tempt to stop him con­struct­ing at­tacks in Chelsea vs Manch­ester City on Satur­day.

Guardi­ola’s ar­gu­ment that Jorginho is out­stand­ing is in­dis­putable in one re­spect: the for­mer Napoli man stands out in the statis­tics, top­ping the charts for touches and passes this sea­son. He broke the Premier League record for most passes at­tempted against West Ham.

In con­trast, he has been at his least ef­fec­tive in the two games when op­po­nents have put a per­sis­tent, quick player around him; if not man-mark­ing him, then cer­tainly not al­low­ing him to run the game.

All of which could give Guardi­ola a dilemma. Ser­gio Aguero has a pro­lific record against Chelsea, with seven goals in as many games, but whether or not the Ar­gen­tinian is not fit, Gabriel Je­sus, who the City man­ager be­lieves is the best at high press­ing in the world, could be a bet­ter fit for the task of sti­fling Jorginho. An al­ter­na­tive might be to use Ra­heem Ster­ling, who has be­gun on the left in City’s ma­jor away games so far, as a false nine.

It may suit City in an­other sense. Be­cause Sarri’s 4-3-3 can be quite nar­row, es­pe­cially in mid­field, and be­cause N’Golo Kante has op­er­ated fur­ther up­field than many think is right, it could leave Ce­sar Azpilicueta iso­lated against Leroy Sane.

Mean­while, Jur­gen 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 they travel to sev­en­th­placed Bournemouth for to­day’s early kick­off.

Vic­tory for Liver­pool would take them top, at least un­til City’s later clash with Chelsea.

Third-placed Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur will also have a mas­sive Cham­pi­ons League night on their minds when they travel to Le­ices­ter City this evening.

Man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino will be less than pleased that his side kick off at 7:45pm GMT with a trip to Barcelona fol­low­ing on Tues­day – a game Tot­ten­ham will al­most cer­tainly have to win to reach the last 16 of the tour­na­ment.

Fifth-placed Arse­nal have no such con­cerns as they host Hud­der­s­field Town to­day look­ing to ex­tend their un­beaten run in all com­pe­ti­tions to 21 matches.

Manch­ester United, who are 18 points be­hind lead­ers City and eight adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea af­ter three suc­ces­sive draws, are at home to bot­tom club Ful­ham.

United boss Jose Mour­inho has made 46 changes to his start­ing line-up 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 goalscorer An­thony Martial picked up an in­jury against Arse­nal and is a ma­jor doubt to face Ful­ham.

Also to­day, Burn­ley host Brighton and Hove Al­bion while new Southamp­ton boss man­ager Ralph Hasen­huttl will be in the dugout for the first time as his side take on fel­low strug­glers Cardiff City.

West Ham United will be seek­ing a third con­sec­u­tive win when they host Crys­tal Palace in a Lon­don derby.

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