Big Match Focus: Chelsea vs Manchester City

Chelsea's place in the top four will be under serious threat when Premier League leader Manchester City visits Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Azpilicueta ries to close down Leroy Sane as he takes a shot on goal.   -  Getty Images

Chelsea has stumbled into a poor patch at an inopportune time with Manchester City's impending visit the most daunting assignment of a heavy December schedule.

Maurizio Sarri's first loss in English football — the result of a below-par display against Tottenham — was soon followed by a second in the midweek trip to Molineux, Chelsea beaten 2-1 by Wolves.

The Blues are likely to slip out of the top four this weekend if they fail to halt the fast-moving league leader, which might already be cantering to the title if not for Liverpool's impressive work in keeping pace.

City, unlike the host, is in imperious form and will be eager to make a statement at Stamford Bridge, just as it did in leaving with three points last time around.

 

GUARDIOLA KILLS OFF CHELSEA CURSE

There was a time when Chelsea was immune to the dizzying effect Pep Guardiola's regal playing style seems to have on opposition teams.

The Catalan, so accustomed to his slick machines passing lesser sides into submission, enjoyed no such ease of results in his first seven competitive clashes with the Blues, which yielded zero victories inside 120 minutes.

Salvation brought by Andres Iniesta's dramatic stoppage-time equaliser for Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in May 2009, which secured a Champions League final berth on away goals, was countered three seasons later as Chelsea prevailed at home and drew at Camp Nou to reach the European decider at the La Liga heavyweights' expense.

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Guardiola claimed a small measure of revenge in Bayern Munich's shootout success in the UEFA Super Cup in 2013, only to then be dealt a pair of defeats in his underwhelming maiden Premier League campaign.

But the tide has certainly turned. Kevin De Bruyne's lone goal in September 2017 gave Guardiola the indisputable victory he craved and the most comfortable of 1-0 wins over Antonio Conte's doubt-riddled, passive outfit in the second league encounter of last season provided convincing evidence that any Chelsea aura has been erased.

City confirmed as much in the Community Shield at the start of this term, delivering its manager his third triumph in as many meetings with Sarri and one that put to bed any doubt over which party is on top in this long-running, layered rivalry.

 

FORM GUIDE

Chelsea is under the microscope more than at any other stage of Sarri's tenure following an alarming 2-1 collapse at Wolves on Wednesday.

It was its second defeat in three Premier League matches and the Italian was left questioning his players' attitude after it surrendered a first-half advantage.

City, in contrast, continue to gather pace at the top of the table, a 2-1 win away to Watford meaning it has collected maximum points in each of its seven Premier League fixtures since the 0-0 draw against Liverpool in early October.

The gap between the teams is now 10 points and could become irretrievable if the champions, unbeaten in 14 top-flight away games, inflict what would be Chelsea's first loss in 12 home league matches.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD (Eden Hazard vs Raheem Sterling)

It seemed a lofty target at the time and Sarri's claim in September that Eden Hazard could tally 40 goals this season appears a long way off.

The early frontrunner for the Golden Boot has now failed to score in the Premier League since a 3-0 win at Southampton almost two months ago.

Fitness issues in November stalled his progress and have allowed Raheem Sterling, with two goals in four games, to stake his claim as perhaps the in-form player of the competition.

City's incisive winger has notched eight times to Hazard's seven in the Premier League, posted a superior shot conversion rate (26.7 per cent to 17.1 per cent) and provided the same number of assists (six) from two fewer appearances.

The Belgium international might still be considered the more damaging of the duo if his team-mates had made more of the 42 chances he has created this term, an admirable return which outweighs Sterling's 27.

HISTORY SAYS...

City's sizeable task is to accomplish something that has eluded it since 1955: emerge victorious on consecutive top-flight trips to Chelsea.

Never before has it beaten the Blues in four straight competitive clashes, an achievement that is possible in what will be the 161st meeting between the teams.

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History is largely stacked against the visitor with Manchester United in 2002 the last reigning champion to beat Chelsea in a Premier League fixture at Stamford Bridge.

City's hopes of replicating that effort could hinge on Sergio Aguero's fitness; the Argentina striker, in doubt with an abductor problem, has scored seven goals in his last six appearances in all competitions against this weekend's opponents.

 

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