Best odds: 12/5
Well, it’s certainly interesting to look ahead to a match between the two teams currently making the most headlines in football right now, a match that will give its spectators a glimpse of what awaits them in the Champions League final on May 29th.
Meanwhile, Manchester City and Chelsea are set to face each other at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon, in would probably have been one of the most important matches of the season for both, if there weren’t for the said Champions League final afterwards. It is the 35th round of the Premier League campaign, and it could see City clinch the title, or Chelsea get on the verge of securing a top-four finish.
Pep Guardiola’s team can only be described as the best-balanced in world football at the moment. Their depth is simply incredible, with the Catalan tactician able to field two almost entirely different lineups in the span of a day or two and practically lose nothing in terms of quality. For example, the sum of the values of the players sitting on the bench as they beat Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday apparently reaches well beyond that of the entire squads of most clubs in the top five leagues of Europe.
Therefore, it’s not really a surprise that City sit top of the Premier League with a 13-point gap between them and Manchester United in second place, especially in the light of the nightmare season title defenders Liverpool, the only team to have presented them with a proper challenge in the last couple of years, have had. The only reason why City are not mathematically champions yet is the fact that United have a game in hand, due to the protests of their fans last Sunday which caused the home clash against Liverpool to be postponed.
City have also been fantastic in the Champions League this term, finally managing to break the curse which had plagued and kept them away from the final throughout the decade of growth we’ve been witnessing. Having reached halftime in the first leg of the semifinal a goal down to PSG, they fought back and dominated the French champions completely over the remaining three 45-minute periods to reach the final.
City won five of the last six league outings, beating Southampton at home by 5-2, Fulham away by 0-3, Leicester City away by 0-2, Aston Villa away by 1-2, and Crystal Palace away by 0-2. Only Leeds United manage to pull a surprise on them by winning 1-2 at the Etihad, despite playing the entire second half with 10 men.
Given the vast number of options at Guardiola’s disposal, it’s hard to say how his team will look on Saturday. As has been said, this match has lost a lot of its relevance to the Champions League final at least when City are concerned. Even if they lose now, they only need three points in the remaining three games to lift the Premier League trophy for the third time since Guardiola took over in 2016.
Anyway, centre-back Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake, fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo, midfielder Rodri, wingers Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres, and strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, will all be hoping for a start after being left out on Tuesday.
Centre-back John Stones is the only notable absentee, serving the last of his three-match ban for picking up a straight red card against Aston Villa. Eric Garcia is also unavailable through illness, which makes it likely he has already played his last game for the club with a move to Barcelona now apparently imminent.
Make no mistake, Chelsea have also been a marvel of the season in the Premier League, though they took the upward trajectory only after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in the dugout in January. That, no doubt, is the only reason why they’re not in the title race against City, though they certainly are in the race for the Champions League trophy against them. What’s more, it’s Chelsea who have already stopped City from winning every trophy on offer this term by knocking them out of the FA Cup in the semifinals, and they’re now set to face Leicester City in the final on May 15.
The Champions League final is obviously of vital importance for Chelsea as well, and their minds will certainly wander towards Istanbul, but this particular match against the same opponent is arguably a more pressing matter at the moment. Unlike City, the Londoners aren’t so certain of achieving their supposed league goal for the season – top-four placement, and they need practically every point they can get between now and the end of the campaign. They are fourth right now with 61 points, two less than Leicester in third, three more than West Ham in fifth, five more than Tottenham Hotspur in sixth, and seven more than Liverpool in seventh, though the Merseysiders have a game in hand on the rest of the teams mentioned.
Like City, Chelsea also suffered an unpleasant surprise in their last-six league run, losing 2-5 at home to relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion. They drew 0-0 away to Leeds, beat Crystal Palace away by 1-4, then played another goalless draw at home against Brighton and Hove Albion, followed by an away triumph against top-four rivals West Ham and a 2-0 win at home against Fulham.
Tuchel obviously doesn’t have as many players at his disposal as Guardiola, but at least his injury list is short. Only midfielder Mateo Kovacic is expected to miss out, which likely means there’ll be no rest for Jorginho and N’Golo Kante this week.
Fullbacks Reece James and Marcos Alonso, centre-back Kurt Zouma, winger Christian Pulisic, as well as strikers Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham, will await Tuchel’s decision on the lineup with hope.
This match is likely to serve as a sort of test for these teams, to get some more feeling for each other following the FA Cup clash, with the aim of preparing for the big finale later. But as has been said, City need the points to clinch the title and prepare for the final in peace, while Chelsea desperately need the points as they strive to keep their place in the top four. These two teams have rarely shared the spoils in recent years, but it just might happen this time around.
Best odds: 12/5
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