The pressure will be on both teams when Manchester City host Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Roberto Mancini’s City (15-8-3) trail league leaders Manchester United by 12 points with 12 games of the season remaining, and rumours are beginning to circulate about the manager’s future at the club. However, star striker Sergio Aguero is hoping that the squad will be able to take inspiration from their 4-0 win over Leeds United in the FA Cup last weekend and mount a late title challenge.
“The boost of winning well against Leeds and getting the Southampton defeat out of our system was just what we needed,” said Aguero. “The chances of ending this championship in the best possible fashion have only improved, but we know what we are capable of and have done for a long time. This is a team that always goes for the win in every game.
“We’ve got a squad littered with great players fully committed to their team, proud and ready to bounce back from any setbacks. We’ve proven it before. Why can’t we do it again?”
Visitors Chelsea (14-7-5) have won just two of their last five league games, but go into Sunday’s match just four points behind second-placed City in the table. Interim manager Rafa Benitez is targeting second place, but with Tottenham. Arsenal and Everton not far behind, he knows that the race for the Champions League places is likely to remain tight until the end of the season.
“I think City are a great team,” said Benitez following his team’s 1-1 draw with Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday. “In the last few years they have improved and spent some money. They have a great team, a great manager, and there is a positive atmosphere around the team and the club, which means it will be difficult to beat them. They don’t lose too many points at home and they are very strong.
“The priority is to win this game, if we win this game we will be closer. If not, we have to keep on fighting. The race for the top four will go until the end of the season. Our last game is against Everton, so I’m sure between now and then it will be very close. We still have to play against Tottenham and Everton, one game can make a big difference so if you drop points it makes it difficult.”
Vincent Kompany (calf) and Gareth Barry (knock) are doubtful for Manchester City, but Micah Richards (knee) remains out. Oriol Romeu is a long-term injury absentee for Chelsea with a knee ligament injury.
City are without a win in three league games – their longest winless run since 2009 – and have already dropped as many points this season (25) as they did in the whole of their title winning campaign.
Chelsea’s Frank Lampard is the first player in Premier League history to have scored ten goals or more in ten straight seasons. The midfielder is the club’s top-scorer this season with 11 – despite playing less than half the total minutes.
The match finished as a goalless draw when these teams met at Stamford Bridge in November. Six of the last eight league meetings between the two have been won by the home side, with a 4-2 win for City at the Bridge in 2010 the only other reversal.
With Manchester United in danger of disappearing over the horizon at the top of the Premier League, this fixture is nothing less than a battle for the dubious distinction of second place.
City currently sit four points clear of Rafael Benítez’s team, but if one team wins at the Etihad, they will have the momentum over the final weeks of the campaign in the race to be crowned best of the rest.
Projected Lineups :
P. Zabaleta • V. Kompany • M. Nastasić • G. Clichy
Y. Touré • Javi García
David Silva • S. Agüero • J. Milner
Azpilicueta • B. Ivanović • G. Cahill • A. Cole
F. Lampard • Ramires
Mata • E. Hazard • V. Moses
Key Stats :
- Manchester City have managed to win just one of their past four Premier League encounters with Chelsea, losing two and drawing the other.
- Chelsea won 10 of their first 12 away league games against the current champions, but City have won the last three clashes at the Etihad Stadium.
- Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko has scored six goals in his last seven Premier League appearances. He is 11/2 to score the first goal with bet365.
- The sides are well-matched, with City boasting this season’s second-best home record, while the visitors have the second-best away form in the league, with Manchester United leading both tables.
- Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard will be looking to score in his fifth consecutive league game for only the third time in his career (having previously done so in 2005 and 2010).
- The Blues have been awarded eight penalties this season, the most in the Premier League, though their opposition today has, aside from rivals Manchester United, enjoyed the most spot-kicks in the league since the start of last season (14).
- Fernando Torres will be looking to recover from a torrid recent spell of form if he features here, having scored just one in his last 13 games; against Sparta Prague on Thursday, he had more shots than anyone else on the pitch and not only did he fail to score, but only one of those was on target.
- The Blues are 13th in the table when it comes to losing the lead in matches this season, having dropped 14 points from winning positions.