Manchester City legend Mike Summerbee concedes that Chelsea will have a fitness edge in the race for the Premier League title ahead of the sides’ blockbuster meeting on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte will go head-to-head in a hotly anticipated clash of styles, with Chelsea having recently displaced early front-runners City at the top of the league thanks to seven straight victories in the Italian’s favoured 3-4-3 system.
City boss Guardiola has chopped and changed formations this season as he has got to grips with his players, as well as juggling their domestic campaign and Champions League duties.
After their Premier League title defence imploded last term, Chelsea are not faced with continental commitments in 2016-17, something Conte has highlighted as an advantage as he has imposed a system on the Blues that remains exotic in English football.
Though stopping short of pegging Saturday’s early kick-off at the Etihad Stadium as a title decider – City and Liverpool are just a point behind table-toppers Chelsea – legendary City winger turned club ambassador Summerbee believes the signs from Stamford Bridge are ominous.
Summerbee told Omnisport: “I think we’re talking a little bit prematurely about title races, it’s very early days. But Chelsea have come out and they’re doing very, very well under this new manager.
“But what we have to look at as well is that they’re not in the Champions League. From one week to another… when they come into the FA Cup, fair enough, but the Champions League is very demanding and we’re in that.
“It does help a side like Chelsea, with a new manager, to not be in the Champions League and look forward to one game a week to lift the side.
“For us it’s very different, playing game after game after game. Being in the Champions League is fantastic. I’m not saying anything against it but it is an advantage for a side not in the Champions League challenging for a top-four place.”
By contrast to Conte, Guardiola comes into the Saturday’s meeting having had a full week to prepare for a game for the first time since the opening weekend of the Premier League season.
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 26, 2016
And Summerbee believes that the Catalan will thrive from such exposure to his players, having followed the team on their pre-season tour of China.
“The first thing that you see is that he’s a gentleman, he’s a nice man, he’s hands on,” Summerbee said.
“When they’re training and they’re practicing he’s on the pitch with them going through different situations with them and you can see the players responding.
“Every day is a different day. They’re training and they do things differently, which keeps the mind focused.
“He’s very much a person I admire. I watched him as a manager when he was at Bayern Munich and at Barcelona. You can’t do anything else but admire a man who can make teams play that way and entertain that way.
“The change he’s brought to Manchester City has been really automatic. It’s not as if it’s taken over a period of time; he’s done it in a short period of time.
“There’s a long way to go, he probably wants to do more with the squad of players and enlighten them more into how he wants to play but, at the moment, he’s playing a good system.”