It is a Sunday slot for a big away fixture this weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are already getting in the mood…
The Premier League’s two dominant clubs of the past nine seasons, with three titles apiece and a Carabao Cup final to contest, square up in east Manchester this weekend.
Thanks to their midweek success at Everton, Manchester City went back to the top of the pile on Wednesday. The last time they held that position for any length of time was from 29 September until 8 December – the day the Citizens’ 22-game unbeaten run came to a crashing halt at the Bridge with a 2-0 Chelsea victory. No one has stopped them from scoring since.
The Londoners will be buoyed by Saturday’s emphatic 5-0 win, and Maurizio Sarri used the rare free time on offer since to hand his players some days off. However, it is a measure of the somewhat elevated challenge we face on Sunday afternoon that the hosts have scored 100 goals more in all competitions this season than last weekend’s opponents, Huddersfield.
Still, Pep Guardiola might have preferred to delay the Goodison game, which was bumped forward to make way for the Carabao Cup final in which they play Chelsea again. Especially as the Blues – ‘a big bull’ in his words – have had a clear week to rest and prepare for Sunday’s crucial clash. Everton made five changes from their weekend line-up; City made just two.
Pep Guardiola has suffered more league defeats (three) against Chelsea than any other team in his career as a head coach.
— Key stat
February’s football will be dominated by moments of truth involving London and Manchester. This is the first of Chelsea’s three vital meetings against the clubs from Cottonopolis, and is City’s second successive hosting of a London club.
Their 3-1 defeat of Arsenal extended the Blues’ goal difference advantage over the Gunners to seven in the race for Champions League places (we have three points more). Our closest challengers for the fourth slot are now a revived Manchester United, who the Blues face next in the FA Cup, and beating nearest rivals face-to-face could become crucial over the remaining third of the league season.
On Sunday, the Londoners will also be targeting an 11th league clean sweep against City home and away. No other team has managed as many against them since 1992/93 when the Premier League began.
Goodison Park may have seen a cat on the pitch on Saturday but Stamford Bridge found a fox in the box. Gonzalo Higuain became the first Chelsea player to score twice on his home league debut since Mario Stanic thumped two past West Ham’s Shaka Hislop in August 2000.
‘You don’t want anyone else with the ball at their feet in the box,’ former team-mate Leonardo Bonucci said of Higuain recently. ‘He will score.’
Dare we also dream of witnessing the birth of a great attacking partnership in ‘H2H’ – Hazard to Higuain? The Argentine’s understanding with his Belgian team-mate already looks instinctive.
The pair found each other with the ball 21 times, six more times than any other attacking combination involving the Belgian maestro this season. Even in the defeat at Bournemouth the 14 passes between them was the third-highest total in a match this season between the no.10 and a centre-forward. Hazard now has just two goals fewer to his name this season than Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane.
Premier League top-scorers
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) 16
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) 15
Sergio Aguero (Man City) 14
Harry Kane (Tottenham) 14
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 12
Sadio Mane (Liverpool) 11
The Blues entered the weekend as the third-highest ranked top-flight team for creating chances, but the third-lowest ranked for converting them. Huddersfield was the most emphatic dispatch yet under Maurizio Sarri, and the first five-goal margin since Stoke visited the Bridge in December 2017. The 5-0 scoreline equalled our biggest ever win against the Terriers, set 70 years ago in April 1949 at the Bridge.
The game also brought Kante’s fourth league assist of the campaign, four times better than his previous two seasons with the Blues; he had already trebled his best goals haul in England.
Meanwhile, Kepa Arrizabalaga remains second in the chase for the golden glove with the same number of shutouts as City’s Ederson, but in fewer games.
Premier League clean sheets
The WSL clash on Sunday at 1pm makes this a City-Chelsea double header weekend. Emma Hayes’s side will be eager to make amends for missing out on a Conti Cup final with defeat to this weekend’s hosts on Wednesday.
The knockout phase of the UEFA Youth League starts later this month with Chelsea Under-19s, last season’s runners-up, hoping to go one better again this season. Tickets for the finals weekend in Nyon, Switzerland, have now gone on sale
This weekend’s opponents for our men’s team, Pep Guardiola’s Man City, are attempting to wear the Premier League crown for a second season in succession, a feat that was more common up to 2008/09.
Chelsea were back-to-back champions in 2004/05 and 2005/06, followed by United 2007-2009.
Current second-place side Liverpool, who have played a game fewer than Man City, can return to the summit and put more pressure on City by beating Bournemouth the day before Chelsea’s visit.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Premier League fixtures
Fulham v Manchester United 12.30pm - Sky Sports
Crystal Palace v West Ham 3pm
Huddersfield v Arsenal 3pm
Liverpool v Bournemouth 3pm
Southampton v Cardiff 3pm
Watford v Everton 3pm
Brighton v Burnley 5.30pm - BT Sport
Tottenham v Leicester 1.30pm - Sky Sports
Manchester City v Chelsea 4pm - Sky Sports
Wolves v Newcastle 8pm - Sky Sports