As you are probably aware, Chelsea's Diego Costa has been banned for three matches for his stamp on Liverpool's Emre Can in the Capital One Cup.
Didier Drogba will presumably come in and Chelsea’s attacking potency will be diminished accordingly. Cesc Fabregas, meanwhile, misses out with a hamstring injury, while both Branislav Ivanovic and Filipe Luis are major doubts having picked up injuries in the Capital One Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool on Tuesday.
Even those who came through that game will have the disadvantage of having played 120 minutes, whereas City haven’t played since their defeat to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Saturday. City look like being without Eliaquim Mangala with a groin injury, while Samir Nasri has a calf problem and Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony are still away at the Cup of Nations.
At the Etihad earlier this season, it was classic Chelsea. They sat deep, frustrated City, picked them off on the break and looked thoroughly in control as they took a 1-0 lead after Pablo Zabaleta had been sent off. But then, just as it looked like another typical Chelsea performance against one of the big sides, they failed to pick up Frank Lampard who stole a late equaliser.
Jose Mourinho, that day, left Oscar out of his starting line-up, preferring to use Willian in central midfield, with Ramires wider on the right, presumably to check the forward sallies of Aleksandar Kolarov from left-back. City used both Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko in that game, which perhaps explains how Chelsea was so easily able to take control of midfield. It seems safe to assume that City will use only one striker this time round and the battle in midfield will be rather more equal.
CHELSEA’S PROBLEMS WITH RUNNERS
Midway through the first half of Tuesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg, Philippe Coutinho suddenly zipped by Nemanja Matic, darted by Kurt Zouma and hit a shot from just outside the box that was deflected over the bar. It summed up perfectly the problems Chelsea have suffered in recent weeks coping with players who run at them.
Nemanja Matic, it’s transpired, cannot alone protect a slow back four against players who run at it. That means Sergio Aguero, dropping deep, turning and running at Chelsea or David Silva, could cause major problems. Given how Mourinho praised Ramires after the Liverpool game, it seems likely he will slot in alongside Matic at the back of midfield.
It was at Stamford Bridge last season that Manuel Pellegrini opted for a 4-3-3 for the first time, with Javier Garcia joining Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. But for a late Joe Hart error it would have got City a draw, and the signing of Fernando seemed designed to permit City to play with three central midfielders more often this season. As it’s turned out, Fernando’s indifferent form has made that less viable and without Toure, one of the triumvirate is missing anyway.
Against Everton and Arsenal, Fernando and Fernandinho have played at the back of midfield, with James Milner shuttling back from a position on the left to offer support. That hasn’t proved particularly successful – City still haven’t won a league game without Toure since April – but it’s not clear what other option there is.
NAVAS v AZPILICUETA
This looks like being an extremely cagey game, with both sides likely to be quite happy to let the other dominate possession. If City are able to play on the break, the pace of Navas could be key; because City so often dominate possession, his role is often diminished, but his pace is such that if the full-back does leave space behind him he can be devastating. Azpilicueta, who probably would have played anyway but is as good as a certainty with Filipe Luis being injured, is far more defensively minded than Branislav Ivanovic on the other flank, which may negate Navas’s effectiveness.
Neither side is in the most commanding form and both have key absentees. Given Chelsea have won 10 out of 10 at home and have conceded only three goals in the league at Stamford Bridge, the temptation is to assume they will win again.
Earlier in the week, before it became apparent that Costa would probably miss out when City were trading at near 4.0, backing them at +0.5 on the Asian line would probably have been the way to go, but Chelsea at 2.05 to win again at home looks too long to ignore. Or, with both teams likely to be cautious after recent set-backs, under 2.5 goals at 1.90 may be the way to go.
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