Our Premier League campaign resumes with one of the big games of the season. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview the clash between the blue part of London and the blue part of Manchester…
Saturday night’s special at the Etihad is one of the biggest matches of the season so far: plucky Chelsea and champions Manchester City, the two sides who have carved out the most big chances in front of goal this season. Away matches in this time slot have produced wonderful results for the Londoners so far this season: 4-2 at Burnley, 2-1 at Watford.
The same start time also elicited one of the Blues’ best performances last season – the 2-0 beating of Saturday’s hosts at the Bridge. It is our Sunday 4pm meeting at the Etihad in February, a 0-6 mauling, that still rankles. But this is not the same Chelsea, and evidently not the same Manchester City.
Still, teams earning a result against last season’s title-winners must generally play with bravery and diligence, and Frank Lampard’s young side have those qualities in abundance. Former Blues agree.
‘When I watch them, no Hazard, but it’s a party,’ Eden Hazard said in midweek. ‘They can score, they score a lot of goals, the fans are happy, and they are third in the league, so it’s going to be a great season.’
Chelsea are the Premier League’s leading marksmen on the road this season; Manchester City are the highest scorers at home.
— Key Stat
Looking to extend a wonderful away record
This match also pits the top flight’s third-best home side against the second best on the road. Leaders Liverpool have accrued just one point more than Chelsea on their travels this campaign, and the Blues have managed a 100 per cent record since the most recent visit to Manchester, on the opening day of the season.
Almost two-thirds of the Londoners’ goals in the top flight have come away from the Bridge. Tammy Abraham alone has struck seven away goals in the league; the only other teams to have scored more than him are City, Liverpool, Leicester and Aston Villa.
Already on a club-record run of seven successive away victories in all competitions, Chelsea could extend that to eight on Saturday evening. However, City have conceded just two league goals at home this season.
Third versus fourth
How many observers of the fixtures list released in June would have imagined the Blues would arrive at the Etihad a point and a place ahead of the defending back-to-back champions this weekend? The visitors are two points up on the tally after 12 games of 2018/19, while the hosts are seven worse off.
This is the fifth time in nine seasons the Citizens will have taken on the Blues from a lower position in the table, and they have failed to win any of the previous four. Chelsea won two and the other two were drawn.
A significant gap of nine points has also opened up between Frank Lampard’s men in third and fifth-placed Sheffield United, who entertain Manchester United (who are seventh) on Sunday. Arsenal, in sixth, host Southampton this weekend.
While three of the current top-four squads have recent experience of reaching the tape first in the title race, it is leaders Liverpool, 30 years after their last title success, who are way ahead in results against fellow contenders.
City were ruthlessly exposed 3-1 at Anfield a fortnight ago, but the last visitors to the leave the Etihad with all three points were Wolves last month. Pointers from that 2-0 victory could be useful for the Londoners.
Insistent pressing forced errors from Riyad Mahrez and Nicolas Otamendi, prompting counter-attacks that should have led to earlier goals, and it was full debutant Joao Cancelo’s mistake that allowed Raul Jimenez to set Adama Traore free for the opener.
The same combination of through-pass and pace exposed City’s high defensive line to bring a second. It is something Frank Lampard may aim to replicate against his former club.
A big five days for the Blues
This is the first of two potentially huge matches for Chelsea, with a Champions League trip to the Mestalla to come on Wednesday.
Hosts Valencia journey to Real Betis on Saturday afternoon with injury concerns surrounding many of their players including goalscorer at the Bridge, Rodrigo.
Some have questioned whether Chelsea’s exuberant young side have the wherewithal to win a big away match – even after the patient, intelligent victory at Ajax. Now, perhaps, we shall find out.
The team has certainly made vast strides in one crucial area over recent weeks. Prior to switching the way we defend set-plays at Southampton, Chelsea had conceded 13 goals in seven games. In the five outings since, the Blues have let in four, fewer than Tottenham (eight), Manchester City and Arsenal (six), Liverpool and Manchester United (five) and the same as Wolves. Only Sheffield United (two) and Leicester (three) have performed better in that spell.
Young guns going for it
The team that saw off Crystal Palace last time out was Chelsea’s most youthful ever in the Premier League, with an average of 24 years and 88 days. By the end, goalscorer Tammy Abraham had become the second youngest player to reach double figures in his Chelsea career after 2004/05 title-winner Arjen Robben. He has done so after just 11 starts.
None of the three young players who have contributed to the most Blues top-flight goals this season was playing for the club a year ago, Abraham included.
Even during the international break the Lampard generation was at it: at 20 years and 311 days, Mason Mount became the youngest Chelsea player to score for England since Jimmy Greaves in November 1960 against Wales (20 years, 277 days).
Also on Sunday, Fikayo Tomori’s introduction from the bench meant that nine of the past 21 Three Lions debutants started out at Cobham between six and 10 years of age (thanks to @chelseayouth for that).
Despite the understandable excitement about youth, one of the Blues’ finest performers this season has been Jorginho. The Italy international is available again this weekend after suspension against Crystal Palace, and with N’Golo Kante also back to fitness the coaching staff have a nice selection dilemma in midfield.
In the past month injuries and form have tested Pep Guardiola’s renowned resourcefulness in several areas of the pitch. Defensive midfielder Fernandinho has played alongside John Stones at centre-back for a few weeks now.
Two weeks ago Liverpool targeted City’s attacking full-backs, with Sadio Mane eluding Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson regularly getting the better of Angelino, who endured a tricky Premier League debut. Only when Henderson went off did Raheem Sterling start to figure as an attacking force.
Their midfield three may be augmented by David Silva, now 33, who was on the bench at Anfield. Riyad Mahrez could step into suspended Bernardo Silva’s place on the right of a front three, though the Algerian has not figured in the league since the game against Wolves.
Ederson may return between the sticks, though it could have been the Brazil goalkeeper’s misplaced passes at Atalanta that convinced Guardiola to replace him with Claudio Bravo, who was subsequently sent off.
Outfielders between the sticks
When Kyle Walker changed his shirt and donned the gloves to keep goal for the Citizens after Bravo’s dismissal it invoked memories of John Terry roaring in delight after keeping a clean sheet at Reading in October 2006. Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini had left the field injured and both sides were down to 10 men.
Not even that drama can top David Webb kneeling down and praying in front of the Shed before actually starting in goal against Ipswich on 27 December 1971. The Blues’ only fit goalkeeper, apprentice pro Steve Sherwood, was fogbound in Selby, North Yorkshire, after spending Christmas with his family.
The club sent a cab to fetch him but he arrived five minutes too late to play, but the uniquely versatile Webb barely had a save to make as Dave Sexton’s men won 2-0. Sherwood did make his debut the following week, his clean sheet ruined by an own goal – from Webb.
Incidentally, Chelsea centre-forward ‘Gatling Gun’ George Hilsdon’s 1908 record of 12 goals for England over a calendar year remains unsurpassed. Harry Kane could only match the tally on Sunday against Kosovo, as Everton’s William ‘Dixie’ Dean had done in 1927.
Premier League fixtures
West Ham v Tottenham 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Bournemouth v Wolves 3pm
Arsenal v Southampton 3pm
Brighton v Leicester 3pm
Crystal Palace v Liverpool 3pm
Everton v Norwich 3pm
Watford v Burnley 3pm
Manchester City v Chelsea 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Sheffield United v Manchester United 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Aston Villa v Newcastle 8pm (Sky Sports)
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