Man City loom large for Blues

CHELSEA HAVE FELT BEL­GIAN’S LOSS OF FORM Guardi­ola’s men un­stop­pable even without De Bruyne.

The Citizen (KZN) - - SPORT - Lon­don

Chelsea’s Pre­mier League ti­tle chal­lenge to Manch­ester City has faded dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent weeks as Eden Haz­ard’s goals have dried up to leave Mau­r­izio Sarri’s men 10 points adrift of the cham­pi­ons ahead of to­day’s clash be­tween the sides at Stam­ford Bridge.

Even in the midst of an 18-game un­beaten run af­ter City eased past the Blues 2-0 in the Com­mu­nity Shield in Au­gust, Sarri in­sisted Chelsea wouldn’t be able to last the pace against a team he con­sid­ers the best in Europe.

How­ever, the Ital­ian ad­mit­ted his con­cern at the scale of his side’s down­turn in re­cent weeks as de­feats at Tot­ten­ham and then at Wolves where Chelsea ca­pit­u­lated from 1-0 up to lose 2-1 on Wed­nes­day.

Those losses as well as a goal­less home draw with Ever­ton mean Chelsea are hang­ing onto their top-four place only on goal dif­fer­ence.

“City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world,” said Sarri. “Manch­ester City are in an­other cat­e­gory. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four.”

It is no coin­ci­dence that Chelsea’s dip has co­in­cided with Haz­ard’s early sea­son hot streak cool­ing off. The Bel­gian cap­tain stood out as an ex­cep­tion to many play­ers suf­fer­ing a World Cup hang­over. Af­ter be­ing crowned the sec­ond best player on show in Rus­sia, Haz­ard scored seven goals in his first six league starts of the sea­son.

At the time, Sarri talked of Haz­ard hav­ing the po­ten­tial to score 40 goals in a cam­paign al­though his pre­vi­ous best for Chelsea was 19.

How­ever, with spec­u­la­tion mount­ing over whether Haz­ard will tie his fu­ture to the club by sign­ing a new con­tract worth a re­ported £350 000 a week or hold out for a move to Real Madrid, the Bel­gian hasn’t scored in 11 games for club and coun­try dat­ing back two months.

Sarri has blamed a se­ries of nig­gling in­juries as a de­mand­ing sum­mer has fi­nally started to take its toll.

“It’s nor­mal at the mo­ment he isn’t at the top of his phys­i­cal con­di­tion,” added the Ital­ian.

Yet, it is clear that without Haz­ard fir­ing, Chelsea will strug­gle to even see off Tot­ten­ham and Arse­nal for a place in the top four, let alone chal­lenge the un­beaten City or Liver­pool for the ti­tle.

That de­pen­dence on Haz­ard con­trasts sharply with City, who have been without an­other Bel­gian, Kevin de Bruyne, for prac­ti­cally the whole sea­son and still barely missed a beat.

The out­stand­ing in­di­vid­ual in a col­lec­tive 100-point mas­ter­class as City stormed to the ti­tle last sea­son, De Bruyne has played 81 min­utes of league foot­ball this sea­son due to two pro­longed spells on the side­lines with in­jury. – AFP

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

MAIN MAN. Eden Haz­ard is look­ing to re­gain some form as they face the daunt­ing task of host­ing Manch­ester City at Stam­ford Bridge tonight.

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