Photo Source: The World News
I’d like to say Chelsea have had more than a week to prepare for the trip up to the Etihad so they ought to be raring to go come Sunday evening. Better still City have had a mid-week game, and as Pep Guardiola was keen to point out post-match, that surely advantages Chelsea. However, the last time Chelsea had a mini mid-season break was ahead of the game against Arsenal.
That game didn’t quite go to plan and the team’s performance caused Maurizio Sarri to publicly call out the players. Two cup games followed that were safely negotiated and in terms of results, all was rosy once again. Back in the Premier League, a trip down to Bournemouth brought about Chelsea’s biggest defeat under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
The arrival of Gonzalo Higuain before the transfer window closed sparked a revival against Huddersfield and it can only be hoped the Blues minor blip is over. With Big Hig’s arrival allowing Eden Hazard to return to his favoured creative position, the remainder of the season looks promising.
It’s been a recurring theme of these mini-previews that Chelsea are still in the FA Cup, in the final of the League Cup and holding onto the fourth spot in the Premier League. Next week we travel to Malmo as the Europa League resumes. Chelsea have no fresh injury concerns ahead of Sunday’s game, in fact, only Marco van Ginkel is troubling the medical staff at the moment.
Maurizio Sarri is beginning to become more comfortable rotating at least some of his starting XI. However, with the Premier League leaders on the horizon, it’s likely to be his perceived strongest team starting the game. A core of instant picks is beginning to develop, but perhaps more importantly, back-ups are being developed for some of those positions.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arizabalaga will obviously take up his usual position between the sticks. He’s numero uno and must feel comfortable that his position is not under much scrutiny. His approach and attitude in his first season has been terrific. That’s fine as long as he doesn’t become complacent.
Defence – Cesar Azpilicueta has shown great character in recent games in the face of Sarri’s criticism. However, the Italian’s frustration has not been allowed to derail Chelsea’s season though, as some former managers have suffered. Love him or loathe him David Luiz can be a brilliant defender. We know all about the lapses in concentration but he still offers an attacking threat from set pieces that are difficult to ignore. He’s Chelsea’s best passer of the long ball as we’ve seen through the current campaign.
Andreas Christensen played in the game against Huddersfield but assuming he’s fit Antonio Rudiger will slot back in alongside Luiz. In the most rotated defensive position, left back, Emerson hasn’t been that impressive when given a start. Nonetheless, Marcos Alonso’s failure to adapt from wing-back to left-back has shown flaws in his game that a Sarri has yet to rectify.
Midfield – With Mike Dean taking charge of this game there’s every chance of someone seeing a red card. Jorginho has been lucky on a couple of occasions to escape an early bath, he’ll need to be disciplined in the face of a City onslaught. N’golo Kante like Jorginho is an auto-pick in the big games. As the season has developed he has grown into his more advanced role really well despite constant calls to the contrary.
As always, it’s the final pick that’s the toughie. My personal choice, maybe not Sarri’s, would be Ruben Loftus-Cheek. If Mateo Kovacic really is to be the back-up for Jorginho, as Sarri has suggested, and given he’s on-loan RLC deserves the opportunity of cementing a place in the starting XI.
Attack – Of course, all the talk of Eden Hazard is about how much longer he will be in SW6, there is still a chance he’ll stay time will tell. On the field, he’s having one of his best seasons. Against Huddersfield the link up play between the Belgian and Gonzalo Higuain showed signs of definite promise, With Sarri getting his striker of choice, Chelsea’s front three ought to be much more balanced and that can only be a good thing. It’s the final spot that creates most discussion though.
A few weeks ago Sarri indicated that Callum Hudson-Odoi was good enough to compete for a starting XI place. Whether it was his transfer window shenanigans or the unsettling nature of Bayern Munich’s approach upsetting him, but he’s seen very little game time. With the dust now settled, the game against City is as good a place as any to be re-integrated
Footnote: There’s an argument for us wanting to lose this game given that it will hamper Liverpool’s efforts to win their first Premier League title. That holds no water here though, Chelsea must achieve Champions League qualification this season, regardless of what the Reds do.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Hudson-Odoi, Higuain
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000