A game to grab attention everywhere begins the Premier League’s weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton prepare for a blue day at the Bridge…
Early pace-setters Chelsea and domestic title-holders Manchester City are the Premier League’s early-risers for the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday.
Last week the Blues brought top-flight proceedings to a close with an impressive 3-0 derby win at Tottenham (Anthony Joshua is unlikely to deliver a better knockout at that stadium), while Southampton held the Citizens at arm’s length at the Etihad.
Pep Guardiola’s men have claimed three of the past four Premier League titles but a win for the champions of Europe this weekend would open a six-point gap after half-a-dozen games. The significance would be debatable: last season at the same juncture neither club was near the top four – both had won twice, drawn twice and lost once.
Psychologically a win for Thomas Tuchel would be huge: he is unbeaten in his past five encounters with Guardiola, masterminding three successive victories including May’s Champions League final at Porto. Man City’s head coach has never lost four matches in a row to the same opponent.
Highlights of our Champions League win over Man City back in May
Tuchel’s squad have had 24 hours fewer to rest and prepare for this important encounter but both coaches substantially rotated their squads for the midweek Carabao Cup games.
Chelsea have now kept more clean sheets (15) than the goals conceded (14) in 24 Premier League matches under Thomas Tuchel.
— KEY STAT
Chelsea team news
Tuchel emerged triumphant from all three exchanges with opposite number Pep Guardiola last season. We will now see what each has learned since that trio of Chelsea wins and gain an idea of both teams’ title credentials.
The Blues are yet to concede from open play in the top flight this season, and at the heart of that success is flexibility, teamwork and tenaciousness. The Londoners and Manchester City (along with Liverpool) boast the joint-best defensive records in the Premier League, with just one goal conceded apiece.
In what was billed the first ‘net-zero’ match, it was N’Golo Kante’s recycling that caught the eye at Tottenham. Despite the fine result, Tuchel was unhappy in the first half with the level of intensity and lack of proactive play, which led to the Blues unusually hemmed in our own third.
He remedied that by bringing on the French talisman at half-time and, now able to find routes through Spurs’ press, what looked more like a 3-5-2 formation ruthlessly took the game to the hosts.
In return for his vital contribution, Kante sat out the second half of the Carabao Cup victory against Villa in midweek to be fully rested for Saturday, his replacement Mason Mount putting in his best performance of the current campaign.
There were plenty of other good showings on Wednesday, notably Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who wowed the crowd with the dynamism and drive he showed pre-injury. The Blues’ team to face City is more likely to resemble the one that started in north London, however.
Chelsea’s recent successes against the Citizens were achieved by containing and playing through their impressive attacking resources, and forcing errors of judgment or positioning in their central defence with incisive long passes or a high press. Above all, though, it has been about having a high intensity and tempo.
Since those encounters, Tuchel has added Romelu Lukaku to his armoury, and the Belgian hit four goals in his eight league games for Everton against Saturday’s visitors. Hakim Ziyech, meanwhile, has netted in his past two appearances against City in all competitions. It might be possible to welcome back Edou Mendy tomorrow, although Kepa has acquitted himself well in the last two matches.
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A Manchester City side featuring a number of first-team regulars thrashed Wycombe on Tuesday, but of more significance was Southampton holding them 0-0 at the Etihad three days earlier. Ralph Hassenhuttl’s well organised defensive 4-2-2-2 set-up restricted the hosts, whose most prominent penalty area presence was Ilkay Gundogan.
As the game progressed the visitors’ relentless pressing forced mistakes from a City team missing Aymeric Laporte and Rodri. By the end, Saints had managed two shots on target – one more than City, who equalled their worst ever Premier League tally.
Pep Guardiola switched all his back five for Wycombe in the Carabao Cup to rest them for this game, but he may also have been sending a wake-up message as they enter a daunting travel itinerary. Three days after the showdown at the Bridge they have a Champions League rendezvous at Paris Saint-Germain, followed by a trip to Liverpool.
Until Thursday, Guardiola was unsure how many of his previously absent players – including centre-backs Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Chelsea Academy graduate Nathan Ake, plus Gundogan, Rodri, and Aleks Zinchenko – would be available for those trips. However, most appeared to have reported for training yesterday.
For each of his past three defeats to Tuchel, the Catalan has made a tactical gamble, and that is almost a given again for Saturday lunchtime. In our FA Cup semi-final meeting the formation was 4-2-3-1 with Gabriel Jesus leading the line; in the league at the Etihad it was 3-1-4-2 with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus; and in the Champions League final Kevin De Bruyne partnered Phil Foden in a 4-2-2-2.
Although Aguero has departed and there is no Citizen Kane as replacement, he has added Jack Grealish to the mix, and Ferran Torres and Riyad Mahrez have had decent starts to the campaign.
The early Saturday kick-off
This is the first of three Saturday 12.30pm fixtures scheduled for Chelsea in short order.
Although the Blues’ results in this time slot have been mixed, only one of the five last season followed a match in midweek – the 4-0 home beating of Crystal Palace last October.
On Saturday 7 December 2019, though, the surprise 1-3 lunchtime defeat at struggling Everton did follow a Wednesday match, in the Premier League against Aston Villa.
|Crystal Palace home||W 4-0||Sat 3 Oct 2020|
|Newcastle away||W 2-0||Sat 21 Nov 2020|
|Southampton away||D 1-1||Sat 20 Feb 2021|
|Leeds away||D 0-0||Sat 13 Mar 2021|
|West Brom||L 2-5||Sat 3 Apr 2021|
A bellwether fixture?
How much of a correlation is there between the victors of Chelsea-Manchester City at the Bridge and the eventual title winners?
Since 2004/05 the two clubs has been crowned champions five times apiece, though only twice has each side won at the Bridge before scooping the title: the Blues in 2005/06 and 2016/17, and City in 2017/18 and last season.
Two drawn matches during that period each contributed towards Chelsea winning the league. Not forgetting, of course, that the Londoners’ 2-1 victory in this fixture in 2020 handed Liverpool the crown at the Mancunians’ expense.
Spreading the load on goals
After just five Premier League games Chelsea have recorded 10 different goalscorers, and 12 in all competitions. Already Mateo Kovacic’s tally of three assists is better than his contribution over the whole of last season, and Reece James is nearing the five he notched in 2020/21.
Up to now Chelsea and Liverpool have matched each other’s Premier League scorelines precisely, week by week. As a result, the blue and red rivals are currently inseparable on every metric except alphabetical order. Obviously it is still early in the season but in the immensely unlikely event that two teams finish the season with an identical record on points, goal difference and goals scored, the title would not be decided by ‘C’ coming before ‘L’.
Instead, the team with the superior record in head-to-head meetings would prevail – though our 1-1 draw at Anfield offers little encouragement that measure would prove decisive. Ultimately, a unique one-off match at a neutral venue would be arranged to decide the champions.
Old Lady edges past Little Eagles
Chelsea are in Turin to face Juventus for Wednesday's Champions League group stage outing. Max Allegri’s men, previously winless in Series A, came from behind to win 3-2 at Spezia in midweek.
Key men Federico Chiesa and Matthijs de Ligt were back from injury and straight on the scoresheet, though veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini has developed a fever. They host Sampdoria on Sunday morning.
On Saturday, Chelsea Supporters’ Trust will be glad of donations of non-perishable food and drink to donate to the Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank, whose work, sadly, is more vital than ever. Fans can leave their items at the collection point at the gates of Oswald Stoll Mansions, adjacent to Stamford Bridge, before the match.
The matchday programme, packed with new features and information, can be bought online again this season
Matchweek 6 Premier League fixtures
Chelsea v Man City 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Man Utd v Aston Villa 12.30pm
Everton v Norwich 3pm
Leeds v West Ham 3pm
Leicester v Burnley 3pm
Watford v Newcastle 3pm
Brentford v Liverpool 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Southampton v Wolves 2pm (Sky Sports)
Arsenal v Tottenham 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Crystal Palace v Brighton 8pm (Sky Sports)
|8||West Ham United||4||2||2||0||10||5||5||8|