On Saturday, the Premier League season gets off with a highly anticipated top-of-the-table game as Manchester City hosts Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium for a midday showdown. Pep Guardiola’s side presently lead their forthcoming opponents in the rankings by ten points, with another defeat for the Blues likely putting their championship bid in jeopardy.
Man City were clearly counting their fortunate stars against Arsenal, who ultimately lost 2-1 in a contentious match on New Year’s Day. Even Pep Guardiola concedes that his team arguably should have came out second best on the day. As Mikel Arteta once again fell to his former master, Riyad Mahrez and Rodri’s efforts cancelled out a first-half opener from Bukayo Saka, and while the champions surprised some by fielding an incredibly strong team for the FA Cup amid a COVID-19 cluster, it ensured City’s progress with a 4-1 victory over Swindon Town last Friday.
Man City’s win over Ben Garner’s side was their eighth in a row in all competitions as they look to increase their advantage at the top of the Premier League table, and the returning Etihad faithful should be in for a treat for their first home game of 2022. Guardiola’s relentless crop has won each of their last seven home games in all competitions – including each of their last five in the Premier League – and despite playing without a recognised striker for much of the season, City has averaged at least three goals per Premier League game at the Etihad.
The defending champions have won 11 games in a row in the Premier League, but they can’t take anything for granted against title-chasing opponents who have been inspired by reaching a mid-season cup final. Antonio Conte’s previous team Chelsea reconnected with Tottenham Hotspur for the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Wednesday, and the Blues got the job done in North London to progress to the final.
The decision to replace Hugo Lloris with Pierluigi Gollini did not sit well with Spurs fans, and it was a move that finally backfired when the Italian failed to meet Mason Mount’s corner and Antonio Rudiger headed home to seal a 3-0 aggregate victory. The Blues have a chance to win it all against either Liverpool or Arsenal next month, but for now, keeping their slim title aspirations alive is the priority for Thomas Tuchel’s side, who are at risk of dropping 13 points behind City if they lose at the Etihad.
Should Liverpool beat Brentford a day later, the Blues might finish third on the weekend, but they have excelled away from home despite a spate of Stamford Bridge stalemates, winning six of their previous eight top-flight games on rival soil and conceding a league-low six goals. Man City’s Gabriel Jesus saved the day in a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, but the champions haven’t beaten Chelsea since the 2017-18 season, when they won 2-1 at the Etihad.