Absence of key names could hinder Chelsea in potential early title-decider
January 1, 2015
- Chelsea P20 W 14 D 4 L 2 GF 44 GA 19 PTS 46
- Man City P20 W 14 D 4 L 2 GF 44 GA 19 PTS 46
On New Year’s Day it was tempting to look at this weekend’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester City as the titanic title tussle that we thought this Premier League season would never get. But City being City, the winner-takes-all tag has disappeared and a five point gap has resurfaced between the two ahead of Saturday evening’s Showdown at the Bridge.
January 31 is no time to be having the final top-of-the-table clash of the season, with there remaining 15 games still to play even as the dust settles after the Stamford Bridge match. That quirk is not just the fault of the fixture list but everyone else in the league failing to consistently test either side, whose fallibilities and vulnerabilities have crept to the surface since the turn of the year.
Chelsea win – Evens
Man City win – 13/5
Draw – 23/10
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
City’s seven-game winning sequence from late November to Boxing Day whittled away Chelsea’s eight-point lead at the table summit. On New Year’s Day the pair sat neck-and-neck with only alphabetical order separating first from second. But City’s flimsiness when expectancy rears its head has one again crept in.
There is no shame in drawing 1-1 at Everton, but failing to hold on for three points after taking a 74th minute lead against a side who had suffered four straight defeats is unforgivable. That was then followed by a lethargic, tempo-less performance against a disciplined Arsenal, where they crumbled to a 2-0 defeat. Only 24 hours previously Chelsea had demolished Swansea 5-0, a performance that Jose Mourinho hailed as “perfect”.
But both sides enter the weekend game against a peculiar backdrop. City’s horrendous run of form since the New Year has clouded their preparation, and Chelsea have had their own soul-searching to do after a week of mixed cup fortunes and the acrimony of Jose Mourinho’s siege mentality. Manuel Pellegrini’s side look in dire need of attacking inspiration, with David Silva and Sergio Aguero yet to get going after their respective returns from injury.
The embarrassing truth that has been peddled out most frequently this month is that City have failed to win a game without Yaya Toure since January last year. The desperation to field their dynamic midfielder, and £30million new boy Wilfried Bony for that matter, was underlined by the fact that Pellegrini wanted them in the squad if Cote d’Ivoire crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday. As it is the Chilean must make do without them again, and face that Toure-less record head on again, if new life is to be injected into the title race.
Defeat – and an eight point lead for Chelsea – will surely leave City with too much to do, given the kinder fixtures remaining for Mourinho’s men in the second-half of the season.
Chelsea have won each of their 10 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge this season, scoring at least twice on each occasion, and will be confident of keeping that record up given that City have conceded at least two goals in four of their last five league fixtures, and with Vincent Kompany looking extremely shaky since his return form injury.
Yet one can not escape the feeling that Mourinho will approach this game from a damage limitation viewpoint. He will know that he has the kinder fixture list, with City still to travel to Anfield, Old Trafford and White Hart Lane before the end of the season, and may as a result look to keep the five-point lead intact, rather than risk losing it again.
It is not an approach that Mourinho tends to go with at home, usually saving it for away games as he did last season in grinding out goalless draws at Old Trafford and the Emirates. But don’t be surprised if he favours a Mikel-Matic axis in defensive midfield, given the attacking riches that they will likely be missing. Cesc Fabregas limped out of Tuesday night’s win over Liverpool and much will rest also on the outcome of Diego Costa’s FA charge of violent conduct for stamping on Emre Can; and Chelsea are a very different prospect without their snarling Spaniard leading the line.
It is not just his goalscoring record they’ll miss – eight different times he’s struck at Stamford Bridge this season – but his sheer presence, will to win and the way he upsets the rhythm of opposing defenders. Without Toure, Fabregas and Costa the fixture will lack that extra class and spice; but the presence of Frank Lampard – back at Stamford Bridge after leaving Chelsea in the summer – will at least distract the media narrative.
Betting Instinct tip – with plenty of attacking talent sidelined, it could be worth backing fewer than 1.5 goals at 23/10 with Intertops.eu
JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football