Big Match Focus: Manchester City vs Chelsea

Premier League champions Chelsea are outside the top four and in a vulnerable state for their trip to would-be successor Manchester City.

Manchester City

Manchester City sits on top of the Premier League table with 75 points from 28 games.   -  AFP

 

Manchester City have their first trophy under Pep Guardiola and are coming for more.

After brushing aside Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final and repeating the dose at Emirates Stadium on Thursday, a visit from the reigning Premier League champions is just another chance to prove the extent of their dominance.

Chelsea head to Etihad Stadium on the back of a third league defeat in four and the weight of logic points to City completing a league double in this fixture.

But that would be to discount Antonio Conte, who is attempting to restore his side to the top four.

Though he might not share the same animosity with Pep Guardiola as he does with Jose Mourinho, the surrendering of a lead in their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United will not sit comfortably with a man Guardiola has previously hailed as "superb".

TOP BOSSES AIM TO EDGE AHEAD

Bested by Mourinho last weekend, Conte will be itching to prove a point against a top-class peer before his silverware is snatched away.

Big expectations were attached to their arrival for the 2016-17 season and the pair have only enhanced their reputations in the time since.

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They were level for league victories (46) over their 18 months in England until City thumped Arsenal 3-0, with Guardiola's superb sophomore season earning him a marginally superior 2.31 points per game to the Italian's 2.21.

The greatest discrepancy is in the more circumspect Chelsea's tally of 135 goals scored to City's 162.

Pep Guardiola (L) and Antonio Conte.

 

Last term, Conte became the only coach to have completed a league double over Guardiola, but he is at risk of suffering the same fate this time around following a 1-0 loss at Stamford Bridge.

FORM GUIDE

First-half goals from Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Leroy Sane gave City a fourth win in five unbeaten Premier League games since suffering their solitary top-flight defeat this term at Liverpool.

Guardiola's men have been prolific on home turf, scoring three or more goals in each of their past six league outings at the Etihad Stadium.

 

In contrast, Chelsea have slipped out of the top four and need an immediate upturn in form for that to change.

The dispiriting loss at United highlighted the erasure of last season's resilience and left them with just two wins from their last six competitive matches.

PLAYER HEAD-TO-HEAD (Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard)

Chief among Kevin De Bruyne's varied skill-set is a knack for making those around him look better and he should do the same for Eden Hazard at the World Cup, but on Sunday the City man will be tasked with putting his Belgium team-mate in the shade.

Hazard, with 11 league goals, has enjoyed a productive campaign, yet he still trails his compatriot in goal involvements by a distance (14 to 21).

Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne and Chelsea's Eden Hazard.

 

The margin owes to De Bruyne's exceptional eye for a pass, which has produced 14 assists to Hazard's three and 86 chances created to 58.

Increasingly positioned as a centre-forward due to Alvaro Morata's struggles, Hazard is not likely to be instigating a Guardiola-style press on City's back four. He has managed just two tackles.

Watching the classy duo go head-to-head at the Etihad Stadium should be just as entertaining as their partnership in Russia.

HISTORY SAYS...

...not to write off Chelsea. Three league losses in four means their form is unreliable but the recent past is with the visitors.

The Blues have lost only one of their last four league trips to Etihad Stadium and prevailed 3-1 in their title-winning campaign.

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Most impressively, Chelsea have also won their last three Premier League away games against sides starting that day at the top of the table.

Failures at Watford and Manchester United have the champions on the cusp of a third consecutive defeat on the road, a low they have not experienced since Rafael Benitez was in charge in March 2013.

But City are the runaway leaders for a reason, not least because have they have won each of their last 13 home league fixtures.