Baroka aim­ing for Pi­rates knock­out

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - MAR­TYN HER­MAN

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 to­mor­row’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 to­mor­row evening if they are to have any chance of halt­ing the City jug­ger­naut.

He said he ex­pects a “big re­ac­tion” to­mor­row, 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.”

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 sev­enth-placed Bournemouth for to­mor­row’s early kick­off.

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

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

Man­ager Mauri­cio Pochet­tino will be less than pleased that his side kick­off at 9.45pm (SA time) 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 to­mor­row 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 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 goalscorer An­thony Mar­tial picked up an in­jury against Arse­nal and is a ma­jor doubt to face Ful­ham.

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

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

| EPA

CHELSEA man­ager, Mau­r­izio Sarri will be hop­ing his team can bounce back from Wed­nes­day night’s 2-1 de­feat to Wolves.

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