A certain former Chelsea manager had once said, “In the first weekend, I was worried and I am still worried,” moments after Manchester City’s trip to Anfield, where a loss dealt a crushing blow to the defending champions’ title endeavours. Jose Mourinho, however, was not speaking about arch nemesis Pep Guardiola’s team but offering a comment about Chelsea, the club he led to three league titles, the club which currently sits one point above Manchester City in the league table.
While Mourinho’s comments ahead of the international break were ridiculed by Chelsea assistant manager Jody Morris on social media, the Portuguese himself drew the ire of Chelsea loyalists as he took over the reins of Tottenham Hotspur from Mauricio Pochettino. Mourinho’s arrival at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium managed to inject a bit of drama during the otherwise mundane international break, but it will be all business when Manchester City host Chelsea at the Etihad on Saturday evening.
Jose is still worried https://t.co/gsPJYyyXKe
— Jody Morris (@morriskid) November 11, 2019
Twelve games ago, when Chelsea were returning from Old Trafford after a 4-0 hammering in their first game of the season, it would have been preposterous to assume that the next time Frank Lampard’s terrific young Blues travel to Manchester, they would have a realistic chance of beating the defending champions. After all, it was at the Etihad where Chelsea suffered their worst loss in over 28 years when Maurizio Sarri’s merrymen were handed a 6-0 defeat as Guardiola’s team put on a display of fireworks in the first half.
Since then, a lot has transpired at Stamford Bridge with Frank Lampard not only rejuvenating the sense of bonding between the London club and its supporters, but also finally integrating the talented Chelsea academy products into the first team, all while playing a brand of football Roman Abramovich has craved for years. Their run of seven consecutive wins in the league is an achievement in itself for Lampard and his young team, as the Blues started their campaign with a string of defensive lapses which resulted in dropped points.
Lampard has not only steadied the ship but has displayed his pragmatism on multiple occasions, contrary to Mourinho’s belief. The 41-year-old, in his second season of management, hasn’t been afraid to switch up formations or rest his skipper Cesar Azpilicueta to hand Reece James a start, the youngster completely validating Lampard’s trust in him. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have come into their own while Christian Pulisic is finally beginning to impact games like he was expected to do.
Errors at the back are still a concern for Chelsea, as their UEFA Champions League display against Ajax at home proved, but a back four of James, Zouma, Tomori and Emerson is as dynamic as it can get – players who can play out of the back in face of opposition press but have enough defensive elan to actually hold their own in City’s backyard.
Jorginho returns from suspension and Lampard is expected to start all his star midfielders N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic against City – a trifecta which is arguably one of the most complete midfields in the entire Europe right now.
A Decade of Success
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 22, 2019
“I look at ourselves predominantly and don’t consider others around us and I think where we might have got more points. It will be a great test to see where we’re at but it won’t be the end story,” Lampard acknowledges that this is the sternest challenge his side have faced until now, but insists they remain undaunted by the task at hand. Lampard’s start at Chelsea has led to parallels being drawn between him and Guardiola, who had a similar induction at Barcelona but even the staunchest of Chelsea supporters would admit the Englishman still has a long way to go before such comparisons crop up.
Guardiola’s Manchester City may be in the fourth position in the league table and could be twelve points adrift of Liverpool even before they kick-off, but still lead the table in number of chances created and shots on target. The lack of foresight in their failure to replace Vincent Kompany has come back to haunt them as a string of long-term injuries have left the Citizens struggling to field a perfect first-eleven.
Bernardo Silva’s suspension could see Riyad Mahrez starting on the right flank while Raheem Sterling must be itching to put the controversies of the past week behind him. The Englishman, along with Sergio Aguero feature in the list of the top five goalscorers in the Premier League while David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne lead the assists table – a testament to City’s attacking prowess.
Their worries lie in defense as Liverpool showed just two weeks back – the Champions can be carved open with precision on counter-attacks, an aspect Chelsea will definitely look to exploit with their penchant for enforcing turnovers in the centre of the park. If history is any indication, it is a folly to downplay City’s abilities even in face of adversities as Guardiola and co. don’t like losing control of their destiny and Liverpool’s solid start to the season has just done that.
Unlike past seasons, City have not been infallible even at home as Wolves walked away with three crucial points a little over a month ago. But they are still a force to be reckoned with, especially considering the fact that Chelsea have conceded at crucial junctures of play through individual errors against quality opponents. If Chelsea’s home games against Liverpool, Valencia and Ajax provided any sort of premonition, Guardiola’s side simply need to get their basics right to outclass Lampard’s young guns.
An exhilarating contest is in the offing, with a lot more than three points at stake. Manchester City must win to keep a semblance of their title challenge on track for Liverpool are already too far ahead of the curve. For the visitors, a positive result could very well be a statement to the critics and doubt-mongers, endorsing not only Frank Lampard’s ability but also the viability of the Chelsea project.
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2019 14:07:18 IST