Premier League Preview: Despite Mourinho’s claims, title hopes on the line when Chelsea visits Manchester City
If Chelsea can’t beat Manchester City at the Etihad, one might reckon nobody in the Premier League can.
Having scored 42 goals in their friendly confines, Manchester City have a chance to pick up an enormous win to not only go top of the table but shatter Chelsea’s hopes at finishing first.
The two teams meet in the City of Manchester Stadium at 3pm ET Monday on NBCSN and live online at NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage will begin at 2:30.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been at his usual mind games ahead of the match, declaring that Manchester City should have won more titles in the recent years, but also oddly declaring they are “not title candidates” and that the Premier League title is “not what we’re working for.”
He also declared that Manchester City are not the best team in the world as Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood claimed, but instead, “They are lucky,” he declared, suggesting the referees have given them “everything in their favor.”
Lucky or good, Manchester City have a sparkling home record that has been highlighted week in and week out, and yet the longer it extends the more it bears repeating.
Not only do they have 42 of their 68 goals this season at home, but those goals have translated directly into points - a perfect 11 of 11 at the Etihad.
There is a history between Mourinho and City manager Manuel Pellegrini. The former supplanted the latter after just one season at Real Madrid, which left Pellegrini bitter as ever at the lack of a serious opportunity to build a squad of his own.
He’s never let Mourinho live it down, and Jose has always held it over his counterpart’s head. It didn’t help the situation that the Blues defeated their lighter-tinted opponents in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in the midst of Joe Hart’s dark days.
Since then, Manchester City have embarrassed team after team at the Etihad, with scorelines like 7-0 over Norwich, 6-0 over Tottenham, 4-1 over Manchester United, and 6-3 over Arsenal. No doubt Pellegrini would be delighted if he could add Chelsea to that ever-growing list.
However, with Chelsea on their own bit of a run, this could be Pellegrini’s toughest test at home thus far, and he will have to complete the quest without leading scorer Sergio Aguero who popped his hamstring midweek.
That means Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo will take over the reigns in City’s furious attack, something they did earlier in the season when Aguero missed time with the same problem, and the team didn’t miss a beat.
City won all five matches during that stretch, including 2-1 at home over Liverpool, and putting four past Fulham and three on Swansea both on the road. However, they are also dealing with a long-term injury layoff for Samir Nasri, and missing both will seriously impair their attack.
A key player in the battle, thanks to the injuries, may be Stevan Jovetic. The Serbian has barely featured this season, but the quality summer addition can without question be a spark the team needs with the current nucleus on the sidelines.
Eventually, however, it all comes back to the managers. Will Mourinho play disciplined defense and look to absorb pressure and counter City when given the chance? Or will they take the bull by the horns and press early? Will Pellegrini let his dogs loose from the get-go and look to shock the visitors, or will they sit back and build from defense?
And finally, Pellegrini will hope he can get Mourinho off his shoulders and finally gazump the perpetual thorn in his side, but if anyone can stop the City train in its tracks, its Chelsea. They’ve kept clean sheets at Old Trafford and the Emirates. Is the Etihad next on the list?