The last time Chelsea and Manchester City met, it was an unbelievable encounter – not because of controversy, stunning football or any of that. But because of Rafa Benitez. That was the first match under Rafael Benitez’s interim days (that still go on), a match that was greatly boring and dull, however it was a turning point not just for our season, but in the footballing world. It ended 0-0.
Last season’s corresponding match : 2-1 Manchester City. The Etihad was stunned in the 55th minute by a Gary Cahill effort that was harshly deflected past Joe Hart, then City found a penalty through Aguero and a brilliant 1-2 between Nasri/Tevez with Nasri scoring the winner in the 82th.
Now however, few could have imagined a Premier League clash between Manchester City and Chelsea would have little bearing on the title race yet Sunday’s fixture is likely to be eclipsed by top against bottom battles.
With 12 games left, champions City are 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester United, who visit bottom side Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, while third-placed Chelsea are a further four points behind.
With their title challenges all but over and Champions League spots looking likely, the focus has switched to respective managers Roberto Mancini and Rafael Benitez, who know that any defeat can harm their job prospects long-term.
Benitez is only in charge at Stamford Bridge until the end of the season but his hopes of a more permanent role seem doomed because of his unpopularity with the fans. Meanwhile, media reports have speculated that Mancini could be axed in May.
Chelsea skipper John Terry, desperate to get back in the first team for league matches after a spell on the bench following injury, believes the club have plenty to play for and not just in the FA Cup and Europa League.
Rafael Benitez never even had a chance to get his feet under the table at Stamford Bridge before the fans turned on him. Ironically, his first game in charge was against Manchester City in November and is best remembered for Chelsea’s own fans barracking their own manager throughout the game.
In recent weeks Roberto Mancini has become the favourite to be the next EPL manager to lose his job, with Jose Mourinho the easy favourite to replace him. As Manchester United stand on the verge of claiming their 20th English League title after finishing second last term. With that in mind, the pressure has shifted for Mancini to produce results and improve morale after losing hold of the trophy they won last season.
This season’s points average of 2.03 per game falls in line with the Italian’s overall average of 2.04 per game since he took over in late 2009. It also makes last year’s 2.34 average per game look like the entire team played above themselves. One would have to question if last season’s win was an anomaly when compared to normal form. Roberto Mancini, the self-proclaimed “best manager in England,” knows that a good finish to the season holds the key to his employment next season. He will do everything in his power to make his team play like they have 12 cup-finals left before they can sign off in May.
City head into the Chelsea clash as 10-11 favourites and a massive 12 points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s team with just 12 games to go. Add in the fact that Robin van Persie and Co. visit the happy hunting ground of Loftus Road and Queens Park Rangers just 24 hours before City face the Blues, and it is conceivable that Mancini’s team will be 15 points behind before they even tip off. City’s season now hinges upon the FA Cup and the perception they have improved upon last term. They currently hold onto second on 53 points, four ahead of Chelsea, and have a potential 36 points left to play for. They won the league on goal-difference last term after finishing on joint 89 points with Manchester United, and looking at their remaining 12 fixtures they will do well to make an 80 point total.
Chelsea are a team as consistently inconsistent as one could get this term and yet they hold onto third place in the Premier League with a dead man’s grip. Under the previous manager, Roberto Di Matteo, their record in all competitions this season read as: W-9 D-5 L-6.
Under Rafael Benitez that record reads as: W-13 D-6 L-5. It shows a minor improvement under the 52-year-old Spaniard, but it cannot mask the huge frailties within the ageing side amidst growing rumours of yet another dressing room split.
The Blues started off the season on fire before dire form in the Champions League led to them becoming the first-ever defending champions to go out the following season in the group stage. The ignominy of their group stage elimination is shared with Manchester City who also exited UEFA’s premier trophy in perhaps worse fashion.
City, the richest club in world football, went out of the competition without a single win from their six games.
Chelsea head to the Etihad on Sunday in the full knowledge that they hold their destiny in their own hands. When faced with similar situations in the Champions League last year, they were able to decide their own future and eventually win the competition against all odds.
This year, however, things are completely different. The defensive group that was once so hard to breach has conceded 28 goals in 26 matches and looks decidedly shaky when attacked down the right and through the middle. The long-term absence of John Terry has wreaked havoc of defensive fluidity and without the ex-England captain they look rudderless across the back four. Add in a lack of pace in centre-midfield and Chelsea are extremely prone to swift counters and set-pieces alike.
Like City, Chelsea will also be looking at this game with a view to building momentum for an end-of-season push. With Tottenham Hotspur still to face both teams, neither will be looking to lose come Sunday. Heading into the run-in, both teams will face Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester United, Spurs, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea City and West Ham United.
That leaves City with Wigan Athletic, Newcastle United, Reading and Norwich City while Chelsea will face Fulham, Liverpool, Sunderland and Southampton.
It’s simple – both teams must win, but only 1 can take the 3 points. What do you guys think?