Maurizio Sarri meets Pep Guardiola in a contest that promises high-tempo passing football. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action...
"Left-back is the major area of concern for Pep Guardiola"
Chelsea v Man City
Saturday 17:30, BT Sport 1.
Match Odds: Chelsea [4.0], Man City [2.0], The Draw [4.0].
This season's meetings between the Premier League's top three haven't been overwhelmingly exciting. Chelsea versus Liverpool finished 1-1, Liverpool versus Manchester City finished 0-0. Chelsea versus Manchester City, however, promises to be something special.
Possession versus possession
Pep Guardiola has tremendous respect for Maurizio Sarri, and their meetings last season when Sarri was coaching Napoli produced some absolutely fantastic football. Both are committed to positive passing football, usually in a 4-3-3 formation, and this game should be full of technical quality and clever movement.
Chelsea's recent form, though, is something of a concern. The nature of their 3-1 defeat to Tottenham a fortnight ago suggested they struggle against heavy pressing, while the midweek 2-1 defeat to Wolves was a major surprise. Therefore, they come into this game low on confidence.
Alonso may be exposed
Sarri's team selection this season has been very predictable. Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was beaten too easily by Raul Jimenez's shot on Wednesday, is protected by a back four of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso. Guardiola will be looking for the most vulnerable area in this backline, and will probably decide that Alonso's tendency to vacate his position, and Luiz's somewhat inconsistent covering behind him, will be the zone to exploit.
In midfield, there has been something of a debate about the roles of Jorginho and N'Golo Kante, but the way Kante created Pedro Rodriguez's opener against Fulham last weekend shows that they can rotate positions, and Kante can use his energy to storm forward in position. Jorginho has looked less comfortable when pressed heavily this season, though, and Manchester City may look to surround him quickly.
The other midfield slot is up for grabs. Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have performed impressively in recent weeks but the patience of Mateo Kovacic may be favoured here.
Going forward, the key player for the home side is Eden Hazard, who was excellent in midweek, despite the defeat to Wolves. He'll drift inside to create from between the lines. The Belgian prefers playing with Olivier Giroud, because of his clever give-and-goes, but Alvaro Morata will probably be favoured here for his extra pace against City's high line. On the right, Pedro may re-take his place at the expense of Willian, as Sarri probably wants someone who can attack in behind City's left-back.
City's full-backs likely to tuck inside
Left-back is the major area of concern for Guardiola. Benjamin Mendy is still out, Oleksandr Zinchenko missed the midweek trip to Watford, and Fabian Delph made a mistake in midweek for City's sole concession at Vicarage Road. Danilo could be deployed on the left, but whether it's him, Zinchenko or Delph, Guardiola will probably ask his left-back to tuck inside to guard against counters. Leroy Sane, from higher up, will provide the width.
Kyle Walker will have a major job: stopping Hazard. Again, expect him to drift inside into narrow positions to put himself in a position to track the Belgian. John Stones and Aymeric Laporte is now very much the first-choice centre-back combination. Both were rested in midweek but should return here.
Guardiola always likes springing a surprise in these big games, often by overloading the midfield. But I think he'll stick with the trio of Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva and David Silva here, and be confident that this trio have the mobility and ball-playing skills to outplay Chelsea's trio. Ilkay Gundogan will probably feature only as a substitute.
Will Aguero start?
Upfront, Riyad Mahrez was impressive in midweek but it's difficult to see how Guardiola can leave out Sane or Raheem Sterling. The former has scored or assisted in all eight of his Premier League starts this season and will test Azpilicueta for speed, while Sterling will have a crucial job in breaking past Alonso.
There's a question mark in the middle, where Sergio Aguero has missed the last couple of games. Was he not being risked ahead of this one? Or is he seriously injured? We don't entirely know. Gabriel Jesus hasn't looked in great form this season, so perhaps Guardiola's surprise will come upfront if Aguero is out.
Sterling as a false nine with Mahrez wide-right? Gundogan into midfield with Bernardo Silva pushing into the false nine role? If Aguero's fit, he'll start - he's scored five goals at Stamford Bridge and his breaks into the inside-right channel will cause problems.
I fancy City here. Sarri's start at Chelsea has been impressive but City boast more tactical variety, and more squad depth. I'll back the away side at [2.0].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
Chelsea are currently 10 points behind table topping Manchester City and will be pleased to be back at the Bridge after losing their last two away games, against Wolves 2-1 and Tottenham 3-1. The Blues are unbeaten in 11 home Premier League games (W6, D5) but they face a formidable Man City side who are on a 21 game unbeaten run, winning 57 points from a possible 63, scoring 61 goals and conceding just 10.
City have started favourites for this fixture in two of the last three meetings at the Bridge and they won on both occasions without conceding a goal (0-3 April 2016 & 0-1 Sept 2017), the season in-between Chelsea were pre-match favourites and won 2-1 (April 2017). Out of the last nine meetings, despite the favoured team being odds against in eight of them the market has been correct on six occasions, two were draws leaving the underdog (Man City Feb 2010) with just one win.
I think Chelsea could find it hard to break down this resilient Manchester City defence and can see the visitors getting away with a low scoring win. I will be splitting my stake backing Manchester City at [2.0] with half and Under 2.5 goals at [2.3] with the other half.