The second of three quickfire meetings between Chelsea and Manchester City sees the Blues welcome the English champions to Stamford Bridge for Thursday’s Premier League battle.
Graham Potter’s side accepted a point in a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest last time out, while the visitors were held to their own two-goal stalemate by Everton.
Only three days before commencing their bid for FA Cup stardom against Man City at the Etihad, Chelsea welcome Pep Guardiola’s men to West London with both sides aiming to lay down a marker after posting a paltry point in the round of New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day fixtures.
A trip to the City Ground did at least allow Chelsea to snap their dire three-game losing run on the road in all competitions, but the travelling brigade only had a bizarre Raheem Sterling goal to cheer before Serge Aurier expertly volleyed home a deserved leveller for Nottingham Forest.
Admitting that he was left “concerned” by the manner of his side’s performance at the City Ground, Potter needs only take one look at the Premier League table to feel even more anguish, as the Blues are languishing in mid-table in ninth place, below West London counterparts Brentford and Fulham at the time of writing.
Seven points separate Chelsea from a place in the top four, but Brentford – who occupy the seventh and potentially final continental place – are only one point clear of their near neighbours having played two games more, and the January arrivals could soon arrive en masse for the Blues.
While David Datro Fofana and Andrey Santos are earmarked as talents of the future, Benoit Badiashile ought to hit the ground running as Chelsea’s latest in a long line of defensive acquisitions, while progress is believed to have been made in their efforts to bring Benfica and Argentina star Enzo Fernandez to the English capital.
As fans eagerly anticipate news of transfer dealings, Potter is working to improve a meagre tally of just one win from his side’s last seven Premier League contests, although runaway leaders Arsenal are the only side to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in top-flight action this term.
Opposition players scoring goal-of-the-season worthy efforts at the Etihad is nothing new – see Andros Townsend in 2018-19 – and Everton’s Demarai Gray put his name in the hat for the personal accolade to further dent Man City’s hopes of a third successive Premier League title.
After Erling Braut Haaland had scored his customary goal – taking him up to 21 for the Premier League season – Gray rifled an arrowed shot into the top corner via the underside of the crossbar to spark pandemonium in the away end, and there was to be no late reprieve for the hosts.
Failure to overcome the Toffees saw Man City enter the New Year a whopping seven points behind Arsenal in the table; that gap has since increased to eight after the Gunners’ goalless draw with Newcastle United, which also leaves the Magpies just one adrift of the champions.
Travelling to West London with no clean sheets to boast from their last four Premier League contests – and just one in their last seven – City will be encouraged by their record of one away defeat from their most recent 25 in the top flight, and not since 2012 have the champions lost their opening game of the calendar year.
Man City dumped Chelsea out of the EFL Cup via a 2-0 scoreline in the third round just before the World Cup, and both Premier League meetings between the two sides in the 2021-22 campaign ended in 1-0 victories for Guardiola’s men, who gleaned a slice of revenge after their Blues-inflicted Champions League heartbreak in Porto.
Chelsea’s medical team continue to work overtime on long-term absentees N’Golo Kante and Armando Broja – who have since been joined by Reece James and his latest knee problem, which could rule him out for up to a month.
Wesley Fofana is unlikely to make the cut here either, but there is optimism over Ruben Loftus-Cheek – who has now returned to training from a calf injury – and Ben Chilwell, although the latter may have to wait until the trip to Fulham next week. Edouard Mendy, meanwhile, is still absent with his shoulder issue.
A recall to the midfield should be in order for Mateo Kovacic – who may very well take the place of Jorginho rather than the emerging Denis Zakaria – while Christian Pulisic can feel confident of holding his place on the left flank.
In contrast, the Etihad treatment room is down to just two players in Aymeric Laporte (back) and Ruben Dias (hamstring), but the former will be assessed and could be in with a chance of earning some minutes here.
Argentinian World Cup hero Julian Alvarez returned off the bench against Everton and should be one of several players in contention for recalls to the first XI alongside Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan, with Guardiola holding off on the changes until the 87th minute of Saturday’s match.
Only a few days after claiming that Kalvin Phillips returned from the World Cup overweight, Guardiola performed a sensational U-turn and hailed the England midfielder’s physique as he returned to the Etihad bench, but his “perfect body” – as Guardiola labelled it – should not be enough to earn him a start.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; Azpilicueta, Silva, Koulibaly, Cucurella; Kovacic, Zakaria; Sterling, Mount, Pulisic; Aubameyang
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Akanji, Cancelo; Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne; Silva, Haaland, Foden