Arsene Wenger and his army have topped the Premier League for a considerable number of months, but the bookies still fancy Manchester City or Chelsea to grab the title. This shows the importance attached to today’s fixture: the league’s meanest attack coming against the tidiest defense, in a tale where money (in the form of world class players) speaks.
With Arsenal overthrowing City at the summit of the league after their victory against Crystal Palace on Sunday, the onus is on either of the cash-loaded clubs to work their way up. The home team’s last away hammering of Tottenham has done well to remind Mourinho’s youngsters just how much ruthless they can be. In this fixture now generally dubbed as El Cashico, a win, loss or draw for either club might just shift the advantage to any of the current top three teams. With the clubs boasting huge talents – Manchester City’s wage bill for 2012/2013 was £202 million while Chelsea’s was £173 million – expect this game to be a cracker.
Pellegrini’s side has been in imperious form at home this season. They’re enjoying the scintillating home form that has previously been the trademark of their red neighbour. The Etihad is now a fortress and does not bode well for visiting teams – they boast an 100 percent record this season! Perhaps the scariest part of this record is that they have scored a whooping 42 goals at home and conceded just 8 goals. In total this term, they have scored 66 goals and are well on course to break the goals record created by today’s opponent, Chelsea. Their lethal attack has placed three of their players in the top 10 highest goalscorers – the most of any team. In January alone, they scored 35 goals against as many teams they faced. The team has averaged 325 chances created and 86 percent pass completion, meaning Mourinho’s midfield would have to work harder to get something from this game. With the likes of Fernandinho and the impeccable Yaya Toure sure to start today, it becomes all the more an uphill task for Chelsea. Manchester City are not afraid to bang the goals in past big teams, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham can testify. A series of slow shaky away performances have been replaced with recent superb performances and if City can keep this up, the sky is the limit. The big stat in City’s favour is that they have won their last four (4) home league fixtures against Chelsea.
If there is one team that can alter Manchester City’s domineering run, it is Chelsea. Statistically, Chelsea boasts the best defense in the league as they have conceded just 20 goals all season (although they’re yet to taste Manchester City at Etihad – as Arsenal has already done). The central defensive pairing of Gary Cahill and the experienced John Terry has been resolute. Captain John Terry has rolled back the years and his sidekicks at the full back are sizzling as well – enter Ivanovic and Azpilicueta. They have ensured Chelsea has kept three consecutive away clean sheets and this is a big bonus going into this game. Also, they have conceded just three goals since December 7 and have racked up nine clean sheets this season. Mourinho is well known for his defensive rigidity and that is exactly what he is building. Despite today’s game being an ‘Attack vs Defense’ game, the bulk of the game will stem from the midfield. The London team has a 52 percent average duel success and this shows they can break opposition attacks well; this is where Nemanja Matic and Ramires come in play. Not to be undone by their opponent, Chelsea boasts an 83 percent pass success rate which is slightly less than City’s. In addition, Eden Hazard is a ‘foul-magnet’, getting fouled 66 times, he is the most fouled player in the league and with City’s relatively higher foul rate, Chelsea can rely on free kicks to help their cause. This is one of the dimensions of Chelsea’s new style of play – by getting the ball more to Hazard to dribble or draw foul. With just one defeat in the previous 13 League outings and with the 39 shots they accrued against West Ham, Chelsea are looking a strong team, even without a proper striker.
This is going to be one tough game to predict, and even the bookies are not sure the right odds to place. With money, both teams boast world class players and coaches. On one side, City looks destined to beat Chelsea. On the other side, Mourinho’s stubbornness and shrewdness coupled with his team’s form tilts the balance to his favour. Perhaps, this might be the time for Pellegrini to finally beat Mourinho only the second time, or for Mourinho to extend his win run against the Chilean.