Not for the first time in the past six months, most of the pre-match talk surrounds the state of Diego Costa’s hamstring. He aggravated a pre-existing issue on international duty with Spain a fortnight ago and despite doubts about his fitness he was sharp enough to start against Swansea City last Saturday and score a hat-trick.
Jose Mourinho, though, admitted on Wednesday – after playing Costa for only the final 16 minutes against Schalke in the Champions League – that the Spain international cannot yet play three games a week. He should, though, be fit for Sunday. City, meanwhile, will be without Stevan Jovetic and, more significantly, Fernando.
City and Chelsea met three times last season. The first time, at Stamford Bridge, was the only occasion on which City played a 4-3-3 in the league last year and it was presumably with a view to doing the same again that Fernando was brought in (and Javi Garcia sold). His injury, though, means City are almost certain to play a 4-2-3-1 with David Silva behind either Sergio Aguero or Edin Dzeko. City did well to restrict Chelsea in that game, but they were undone by a last-ditch mix-up between Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic and lost 2-1.
The second time, in the league at the Etihad, was arguably the highlight of the season for Jose Mourinho, the moment at which his counter-attacking game really bore fruit. City strived and struggled and Chelsea looked devastating on the break, winning 1-0 from a Branislav Ivanovic goal, while Samuel Eto’o, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill all hit the woodwork.
A little under two weeks later, though, they met against in the FA Cup and on that occasion, with both teams a little under strength, City had adapted to Chelsea’s approach and won 2-0 in what was probably Jovetic’s best game of the season.
AGUERO OR DZEKO?
There was a time when suggesting City had a difficult decision to make between playing Aguero or Dzeko would have seemed absurd, but the Bosnian’s height means he holds the ball up better and, when in form, he can be all but unplayable. His five goals in a three-game burst towards the end of last season were vital in City winning the league.
If Chelsea sit deep, then it may make sense to have an aerial presence to give City the option of playing crosses; Aguero, you suspect, would probably struggle to win headers against either John Terry or Cahill. On the other hand, Aguero, who may not yet be fully fit, has already scored three goals this season, and his pace is more likely to worry Cahill and Terry than Dzeko’s aerial ability would.
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BACK OF CITY’S MIDFIELD
City’s problem against Chelsea at the Etihad last season was that the back of the midfield offered no protection to the defence when Chelsea countered. There was one extraordinary moment in the first half when City were lured so far upfield in such numbers that Willian was able to lead a four-on-one break, the sheer amount of space seeming to confound him.
In part the issue was caused by Martin Demichelis being used in midfield alongside Toure, and the return of Fernandinho will surely help, but the basic issue remains the same: City’s holding midfielders have to offer protection because Chelsea are so quick and powerful on the break. That may mean Toure having to temper his attacking inclinations to deal with Cesc Fabregas.
MATIC v SILVA
Matic has been an overwhelming success since his return from Benfica, the one game in which he looked unsettled being the FA Cup tie against City. In part, the problem was caused by Alvaro Negredo dropping deep, but the bigger issue was David Silva drifting in from the left and finding pockets of space between Matic and Mikel John Obi.
Chelsea, presumably, will play the 4-3-3 they have favoured this season, with Oscar to one side and Fabregas the other, which, with Silva likely to be used centrally, makes it a straight battle between the two. If City are to succeed, they probably need Silva to win that battle.
Chelsea have been strangely open in their last two league games, conceding three at Everton and two at home to Swansea City, the sort of laxity that usually leads Mourinho to go back to basics and tighten up defensively. The sloppiness of Wednesday’s draw with Schalke means he is even less likely to take risks.
City, meanwhile, are yet to find their rhythm this season and are without a win in three matches. That makes under 2.5 goals at 1.98 attractive, while Chelsea look overpriced at 2.95 (or 2.12 draw no bet). A more adventurous play would be to look at a repeat of last season’s scoreline, a 1-0 win for Chelsea, at 10.50.
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