FOX Sports’ Edward Russell has the lowdown on the big game in the Premier League this weekend…
In any other season a Chelsea vs Manchester City clash in the middle of April would have ‘title decider’ written all over it. Yet it is a measure of just how extraordinary this campaign has been that City go into this game with only a berth in next season’s Champions League to play for, whilst for Chelsea there is only pride at stake, stranded as they are in mid-table mediocrity.
With that in mind, it would’ve been all too easy to focus this week’s article on the much more decisive Leicester City vs West Ham fixture; but it’s just too hard to let a battle between two of the Premier League’s big boys go unnoticed, especially given City’s astonishing Tuesday night escapades.
City in Europe
What a week it’s been at The Etihad. A Samir Nasri goal did just enough to secure three points against a stubborn West Brom side last Saturday, and then came a win on a whole other scale – beating Paris St Germain 1-0 to secure a Champions League semi-final spot for the first time in the club’s history. Despite the numerous domestic achievements that City have enjoyed since the beginning of the Sheikh Mansour era, the side have always underperformed in European competition in comparison. This season however it’s starting to seem as if they could have a real chance of glory on the continent, rather ironically in manager Manuel Pellegrini’s last term in charge.
Over in the Premier League though, Pellegrini’s men have been a lot less consistent this season. Despite that aforementioned win over West Brom ensuring that they remain in pole position for 4th place, recent fixtures have seen them lose to Manchester United and Liverpool, and seen them draw away at Norwich. Those results have left them two points behind 3rd placed Arsenal, but perhaps more intriguingly only four points away from Manchester United in 5th, and thus this week could prove to be absolutely crucial for City as they play two league games in the space of only three days. Anything less than two wins from those fixtures and it could well become the case that lifting the Champions League trophy at The San Siro in May would represent City’s best chance of securing a berth in the same competition next season. Speculation over a “no Champions League get-out clause” in incoming manager Pep Guardiola’s contract was recently proved to be unfounded, but qualification would still be imperative in attracting big names to the Etihad next season – especially vital given the ageing nature of City’s current squad.
Chelsea’s season ended prematurely
All this talk of European football, and not even a mention of Chelsea. The hiring of manager Guus Hiddink in order to steady the ship at Stamford Bridge seemed to pay dividends in the early stages, but in recent weeks the Blues have returned to their underperforming ways, taking maximum points from only one of their last six games in all competitions. Currently sitting 10th in the table, Chelsea’s season is already all but over and it would be little wonder if many of their players are already thinking about next season, or indeed where many of their own futures lie once this calamitous campaign has been laid to rest. With the shadow of incoming manager Antonio Conte looming large over Stamford Bridge, it would be no surprise if the no-nonsense manager makes wholesale changes to a squad seemingly lacking any motivation or desire.
Aguero to run riot?
Following their defeat to Swansea last weekend though, it is Chelsea’s defence that appears to be in most need of some reinforcements, as a makeshift back four that included the likes of Matt Miazga, Baba Rahman and Kennedy failed to instill any sort of confidence. With Gary Cahill’s participation still uncertain and with captain John Terry definitely sidelined, it could be very well be the same backline that lines up on Saturday; and it would be a brave man that gives them any chance of keeping City’s stellar attacking lineup at bay for 90 minutes.
Sergio Aguero has scored four in the past five league matches, and his pace and agility provides a constant threat to even the most experienced of defenders. If it’s not enough of a task to keep the diminutive Argentinian at bay, Chelsea will also have to be at their best to keep quiet Kevin de Bruyne, who will be full of confidence following his key goal on Tuesday and who bossed the PSG defence throughout.
At the other end of the pitch, Chelsea’s star studded attacking lineup has been remarkably lacklustre as of late, and Hiddink must be starting to wonder where the goals can come from. The experiment of handing the much underused Alexandre Pato his first start of the season failed to pay dividends against Swansea, and unwanted loanee Radamel Falcao has been similarly lacking in goals, despite his big money contract. The much maligned Diego Costa should return to the match day lineup following his extended suspension, but with Joe Hart in imperious form against PSG on Tuesday, it won’t be an easy task to put one past the England number 1. Chelsea will have to find a way though, or otherwise they still very much run the risk of finishing in the bottom half of the table for the first time in an astonishing two decades.
Article by Edward Russell, FOX Sports Presenter