Set your alarms, it is an early start in east Manchester this weekend, but club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are already on it with their big preview…

The first top-two clash of the campaign since early October takes European champions Chelsea to the home of league leaders Manchester City. It is only the second meeting between the two sides when placed first and second, the previous being a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in January 2015.Curiously, the hosts have won just three of their past 14 Premier League encounters with teams starting the day in second place, losing six. However, the Blues’ dramatic 2-2 draw with Liverpool on 2 January left City 10 points clear at the top.Thomas Tuchel’s Carabao Cup finalists will aim to shake off the habit of four draws in five top-flight matches and disrupt the Mancunians’ current run of 11 league wins on the spin.If the Londoners can fashion victories here and at Brighton on Tuesday, before Man City are in action again, the deficit would be reduced to four. Liverpool, one point behind, will expect to get the better of Brentford on Sunday.

Next weekend, going into the international break, the Reds and Citizens have tricky aways while at the Bridge, Chelsea can target a fourth success of the campaign against Spurs.

This is the fifth Saturday lunchtime start of the campaign for Chelsea, four of them coming just 62 hours after midweek cup action. Two were won and two lost, including the reverse fixture at the Bridge back in September.

The Londoners won this fixture 2-1 last season with second-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Marcos Alonso, our 13th Premier League victory at away against City whose record of 27 top-flight defeats to the Londoners since September 1992 is their worst against any rival.

Chelsea team news

The Blues remain on course to complete up to 65 fixtures on all fronts this season, making performances like those recently delivered by the wider squad including Kepa Arrizabalaga, Malang Sarr, Saul and Lewis Hall all the more vital.

There were clues in midweek to possible starters at the Etihad, with minutes for Marcos Alonso, and Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante after illness, as well as nights off for Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and truncated evenings for Mason Mount, Timo Werner, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.

Set plays have led to goals in the Blues’ past five outings, including the inswinger from Mason Mount that tempted an error from the Spurs ’keeper and allowed Toni Rudiger to find the back of the net with the back of his neck. Like Chelsea, though, City concede few goals (or even shots) from dead-ball deliveries.

Thomas Tuchel was still unhappy with some parts of the performance that took us to another final, bemoaning the 10-15 per cent lessening of closing down space, controlling the game, reducing errors, and being decisive upfront.

With that in mind, the reverse fixture against the Mancunians in September, also over a Saturday lunchtime, was a chastening day. Despite the narrow deficit Chelsea were dominated and unable to express ourselves, recording the lowest possession percentage (with 11 players on the field) since our Champions League triumph by the same margin over the same opponents.

Unlike the final in May, the off-colour Londoners registered only five shots, none of them on target, boxed in by Man City’s mobile front five and a deep-lying Bernardo Silva alongside Rodri. Chelsea have usually found space in wide areas behind City’s attacking wing-backs and troubled their centre-backs in one-on-one moments.

The Blues’ coaching staff are certain to have worked on different scenarios. At Spurs we saw the back-four set-up again while in possession, then five when defending, making tactical options more adaptable and less predictable.

Changeable Citizens

Pep Guardiola and assistant Juanma Lillo were isolating for Covid reasons last Friday, but are expected to be present this weekend. Seven unnamed players were also reported stricken and Ederson, Fernandinho, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko were omitted from the squad that saw off Swindon in the FA Cup.

City have not played at home since Boxing Day, when they lashed Leicester. A few games earlier, though, Pep Guardiola was critical of his team playing too expansively to impress the Etihad crowd and almost allowing Wolves an equaliser.

During the Blues’ 2-1 success at the Etihad last season (part of a run of 13 wins from 19 league games on the road) City fielded a back three, but they have used a four in every game so far this term.

Many of their positions are fluid, though, designed to outnumber the opponent anywhere on the pitch but the short-handedness at the rear that sometimes results can be exploited. In possession Joao Cancelo stays aggressively high alongside Rodri, effectively leaving the Mancunians with three stretched across the back.

Against Arsenal, the Gunners’ high three-man press restricted Man City’s options to play out and knocked them out of their rhythm. As a way out, they used Ederson even more than usual. The Brazil goalkeeper took calculated risks, roaming out to a centre-half position, sweeping up danger and taking time on the ball to pass simply or set widemen on their way.

On the counter Arsenal’s wingers caused problems by chasing simple channel passes behind City’s wide defenders. The Citizens’ backline – even in-form centre-backs Ruben Diaz and Aymeric Laporte – struggled to maintain their covering when the hosts pressed them and switched flanks quickly. All the same, Arsenal’s rashness eventually cost them a share of the points.

As the top-flight’s most prolific corner-takers, City will miss Riyad Mahrez’s whipped delivery from the quadrant as well as his curled crosses to the far post.

The leading goalscorer’s tour of duty at the Africa Cup of Nations allowed Cole Palmer a rare start on the right against Swindon, but Gabriel Jesus is favourite to fulfil the role this weekend. On the right of a highly mobile front three, the Brazilian put away the only goal of the game when the two sides met at the Bridge in September.

Aches and pains

As Petr Cech has pointed out, the TV schedulers are not favouring Chelsea. While City were last in action on Friday, the Londoners finished late on Wednesday evening and face a trip to Brighton on Tuesday with minimal recovery.

Three games in seven days, all away from home, puts at risk the welfare of an already depleted squad. Only last week the Times reported that Premier League player injuries this season are up by 10.6 per cent on the average of the past five years, from 311 to 344.

All over bar the shouting?

Man City’s current lead of 10 points looks daunting, even with 51 still available to Chelsea and 54 to Liverpool a point further back. Yet external factors are making this an unusual season and the Premier League has plenty of examples where leads have rapidly evaporated.

Infamously, Newcastle had been a dozen points clear of Liverpool and eventual champions Manchester United after 23 matches of the 1995/96 season. Two seasons later, Man United squandered an 11-point advantage in mid-January and lost out to Arsenal.

In April 2012 with just six games to go, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were eight ahead of the ‘noisy neighbours’ but still messed up. And two years later Chelsea soared seven points clear with nine to play after thrashing Spurs 4-0, only to lose two of the next three and finish third.

Midweek milestones

Chelsea have now reached 19 cup finals at home and abroad in the 19 seasons since Roman Abramovich took over at Stamford Bridge (31 overall). We have booked a showpiece appearance in all but four seasons since his arrival, the anomalies being 2010/11, 2013/14, 2015/16 and 2005/06 – a year we won the league title. Six seasons in a row with a final is the best sequence in the club’s history.

Chelsea’s undefeated record since the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opened continues – 24 per cent of all Spurs’ defeats at their new ground have come at the hands of the Blues. The third victory of the campaign against the Cockerels made it 10 unbeaten across all competitions, our best spell since 2002-06.

Thomas Tuchel, who has a record success rate of nine wins from nine semi-finals, is also the first coach ever to steer Chelsea to the final of the Champions League, FA Cup and now League Cup.

Matchweek 22 Premier League fixtures

FridayBrighton v Crystal Palace 8pm (Sky Sports)

SaturdayMan City v Chelsea 12.30pm (BT Sport)Burnley v Leicester 3pmNewcastle v Watford 3pmNorwich v Everton 3pmWolves v Southampton 3pmAston Villa v Man Utd 5.30pm (Sky Sports)

SundayLiverpool v Brentford 2pmWest Ham v Leeds 2pm (Sky Sports)Tottenham v Arsenal 4.30pm (Sky Sports)