Pep Guardiola’s side is currently fourth in there Premier League, one point behind their visitors, with both sides looking for their first win against a ‘big six’ club this season.
Man City defender Aymeric Laporte and striker Leroy Sane are still struggling with knee injuries, and goalkeeper Ederson is unlikely to return. Midfielder Bernardo Silva is serving a one-match ban because of his controversial tweet about his team-mate Benjamin Mendy.
Chelsea have three midfielders, Christian Pulisic, Ross Barkley, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, struggling with injuries. Defender Antonio Rudiger is still recovering after groin surgery.
The Blues have eight victories in their past 10 games, and Man City have seven. Guardiola’s side is more effective at scoring than their opponents – they have a league-leading 35 goals, compared to Chelsea’s 27.
Nevertheless, they went without a win in their most recent two matches: a 1-1 draw against Atalanta in Champions League, and a 3-1 loss before the international break. In contrast, Chelsea are unbeaten in November.
The hosts have won five out of six most recent meetings of these two teams, but this will be the first time Frank Lampard has faced the club where he spent a brief period at the end of his playing career.
Both sides are secure in the top four as fifth-placed Sheffield United are eight points below Man City. A home win tomorrow, coupled with Liverpool loss at Crystal Palace, will see the gap at the top reduced to six points.
If Chelsea win and the current top two, Liverpool and Leicester City, both lose, they will climb from third to second place, only five points off the top spot.
Etihad Stadium photo by Quay News via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Following their 6-0 humiliation at the Etihad, Chelsea delivered a much improved performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.
Most Chelsea fans were fearing another big defeat by Pep Guardiola’s side, but Maurizio Sarri’s team provided a much stiffer test for the champions this time round.
The Italian organised his side to stifle City’s attacking flair, which looked to be the perfect game plan up until the second half of extra-time when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted for Willy Caballero, who helped City win the League Cup against Liverpool in 2016.
Sarri believed the young Spaniard was suffering with cramp and wanted to replace him, with a penalty shoot-out looming. Denied, he flew into a rage, and every pundit covering the game said his authority had been badly undermined by Kepa’s actions.
The manager’s mood wasn’t improved by Chelsea’s eventual 4-3 loss on spot kicks, and after the game, Sarri said Kepa had made a “big mistake,” adding there would be “some consequences”.
“I spoke with Kepa, then we spoke all together. He said sorry to the technical staff, but it was not enough. Then he said sorry to his team-mates and the club. He made a big mistake, but we don’t want to kill him.”
Perhaps the manager made a mistake himself by not starting with Caballero in the first place, given that he has featured in most of their cup matches this season?
With the vultures still circling after Chelsea’s recent poor run of results, despite their resolute display at Wembley, their next fixture – at home to Spurs in the league – was billed as an absolute ‘must win’ match for Sarri.
In a feisty encounter at Stamford Bridge, the Blues put a massive dent in Tottenham’s title thanks to a 2-0 victory. Kieran Trippier’s own goal in the 84th minute sealed a precious three points for the hosts in their quest for a top-four finish after Pedro had given them the lead in the 57th minute.
Having seen his decision to drop Kepa – thus reasserting his authority – pay off, is Sarri now on the road to redemption?
Hardly, as he still under immense pressure to pull the Blues out of disharmonious state they have fallen into in recent weeks.
This will be no easy task, especially as Chelsea’s preferred option always seems to be jettisoning their manager when the going gets tough and their top-four status is threatened.
Among the recent victims of the club’s revolving door policy are Jose Mourinho – gone before Christmas in the season after winning the Premier League – and Antonio Conte, who followed title success with an FA Cup win but was still shown the exit after falling out with too many of his players.
Chelsea’s improved most recent displays can’t alter the impression that Sarri’s tactics in a 4-3-3 formation, which served him well at Napoli, don’t seem to be working in west London.
Many fans feel he is not helping himself by mishandling N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s Player of the Year in 2018.
The Frenchman is naturally a defensive-minded player, so he feels more comfortable as a holding midfielder who can protect the back three.
However, Sarri has moved him into a more offensive role to make room for Jorghino, who he signed from Napoli for £50m. Supporters and pundits alike feel the Italian has struggled to adapt to the English game, and as a consequence the back four lack protection.
Also, the idea of playing Eden Hazard as a false nine can work at times, but Chelsea would look more threatening with a target man such as Olivier Giroud or Gonzalo Higuaín.
This then allows the likes of Hazard and Willian to play off them and use their dribbling skills and running speed to beat defenders and whip crosses into the box.
Adding to Chelsea’s troubles is the ban on the club signing players imposed by Fifa after football’s world governing body found it guilty of breaching regulations regarding the recruitment of overseas players under the age of 18.
A ban covering two transfer windows was handed down, with Fifa finding Chelsea at fault in 29 cases out of the 92 it investigated. Chelsea are appealing against the punishment, but this may only serve to delay it until January 2020.
Perhaps Sarri’s ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster still has some way to go…
In the meantime, will Chelsea go on a spending spree this summer to stock up on fresh talent before any ban kicks in? Will this mean they need to sell prime asset Hazard plus others to finance several signings? Real Madrid have long been linked with the Belgian international, but other reports suggest their next main target is Paris St-Germain star Neymar Jr.
Will another consequence be that the Blues – ironically, given the reason for the ban – are forced to promote more players from their own academy to the first-team squad?
Chelsea have been notoriously poor at doing so in recent years – John Terry remains the most notable of their homegrown talents to become a first XI regular in the past couple of decades.
But then their policy of managers always being expendable, regardless of any trophy successes, means anyone in the hot-seat is always thinking in the short term, and will opt for signing finished-product players rather than taking a chance on youth.
Calum Hudson-Odoi is the most recent young Chelsea player to catch the eye, but the feeling persists he is only getting (limited) game time to ward off interest from Bayern Munich, who tried to sign him in January.
Of course, the other question is – will Sarri still be in charge, whether Chelsea are splashing the cash this summer or looking to their academy for solutions?
If a two-window ban is eventually imposed, would any big-name manager want to join? Would failing to finish in the top four also deter pedigree candidates?
Perhaps Sarri’s ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster still has some way to go…
Main image courtesy of wkocjan via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Many Liverpool fans were hoping against hope that club icon Steven Gerrard might have one last hurrah at Anfield after leaving MLS club LA Galaxy.
Gerrard, 36, opted to end his playing career last week, but may one day return to Liverpool in another role – possibly as a coach and potential manager?
For a footballer, leaving the club where you are seen as a legend is an incredibly hard decision, but the chance to return as a player or manager can be an even bigger one.
Remind everyone why you became a hero in the first place, or ruin your reputation; which way will it fall?
Here are five of those who did it best:
5 – Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea
Graeme Le Saux’s first spell at Chelsea ended in anger but the second was glorious.
Le Saux was the most expensive defender in England at the time at £5m – a far cry from the £30m Chelsea recently paid for David Luiz to return to the club after a £50million move to PSG two years earlier – when he returned after a controversial first spell in west London.
In 1993 Le Saux was a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, but rarely lasted the whole match, and when he was taken off at Southampton, it proved too much for him to take and he ripped off his shirt in disgust, throwing it on the feet of manager Ian Portfield.
The defender was soon on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where in his first full season, he helped them win the Premier League title and became an England regular.
In 1997 he returned to Chelsea, making him English football’s most expensive defender and in the next three years, they won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
Leaving Chelsea as the “villain” for showing disrespect to the manager was tough enough, but returning to the club that sold you after your misdemeanours is a risk Le Saux took and evidently it paid off.
4 – Thierry Henry – Arsenal
When Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007, after eight years, 245 appearances and 174 goals, a huge part of his heart remained in north London.
So in some ways it was no surprise when five years later he returned to train with the team, and, inevitably, play for them again.
By then Henry was playing for MLS side New York Red Bulls, and during their 2012 off-season, he trained with the Gunners to keep in shape.
But when they suffered an injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger looked to his former talisman and he signed a two-month loan deal. ‘King’ Henry was back.
He made four appearances and scored twice; the first came in his debut when he scored the winner goal in an FA Cup tie against Leeds.
His last ever Gunners goal came in his final match under Wenger – again, the winner, in injury time for a 2-1 triumph at Sunderland. No wonder there is a statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium.
Henry is now Belgium’s assistant manager and a pundit on Sky Sports. Many Arsenal fans would love to see him succeed Wenger as manager one day. Is another hero’s return too much to ask for?
3 – Ian Rush – Liverpool
Ian Rush’s 346 goals in two spells at Liverpool make him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. At his peak in the 1980s, there was no-one to rival him in English football.
Having won four league titles and two European Cups in six years with the Reds, in 1987 Rush left to join Serie A giants Juventus. It did not go well, with just seven goals in 29 appearances for the Italians.
Loaned back to Liverpool for the second year of his Juventus contract, Rush’s Midas touch returned, as he scored 30 goals in 42 matches.
A permanent return home was just a matter of time, and the Welsh striker spent another eight seasons at Anfield, making 245 more appearances and adding a further 90 goals. During this time he also won another league title, two FA Cups and became their record goalscorer.
A legend? Unquestionably.
2 – Didier Drogba – Chelsea
Didier Drogba was not just a legend as a player; over two spells at Chelsea, he helped change the history of his club.
His first spell, after joining from Marseille in 2004, saw Chelsea win their first league title in 50 years, in his debut season.
Another Premier League title followed the next year, setting up a glorious era in which he became the first ever player to score in four different FA Cup finals, as well as the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. But nothing compared to how he signed off his first stint at the club.
His 88th minute equaliser in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich, took the game to extra time and then penalties. And who scored the winner? Drogba, of course.
When he left that summer to join Chinese league side Shanghai Shenhua, after eight years, 226 appearances, 100 goals and eight trophies, a fan poll by Chelsea’s official club magazine saw the Ivorian named as the club’s best-ever player.
Supporters probably thought they would never see his like again. They were wrong.
Drogba’s stint in China was short-lived, and soon he was playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, where he added the 2013 Turkish Super Cup to his medal collection.
The following year, he was back at the Bridge, signing a one-year contract for manager Jose Mourinho – like Drogba, enjoying his second spell at Chelsea.
Drogba managed four more goal in 28 appearances, before announcing that the final game of the season against Sunderland would be his last for the club.
After half an hour, he had to come off injured, but rather than limping off, he was chaired off the field by his team-mates. Now that’s a stylish exit.
The success Drogba enjoyed in his first spell at Chelsea meant that coming back for a second time he had to be as good, if not better than he was previously. Undoubtedly, he was a good playing an integral part in saving Chelsea’s season and thats why he is second.
1 – Paul Scholes – Manchester United
An increasingly rare one-club man, Paul Scholes’ 466 appearances for Manchester United over 17 years make him one of the modern greats.
In his testimonial match in August 2011, the midfielder signed off with a 25-yard finish, showing that even though he was retiring, he had still not lost his touch and he could have played on for a while yet. But no-one expected that he would actually do so.
Five months later, with United going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he was back, making his ‘second debut’ by coming on to score in the Manchester derby, and also finding the net in his first start second time around.
He was persuaded to sign another one year contract extension, keeping him at United until the end of the following season, and retired for good at the end of the 2012-13 season – fittingly, picking up a yellow card in his farewell match. Well, he never was much of a tackler…
His total of 25 major trophies makes him the most decorated English footballer of all time, and he is now co-owner of Salford City FC, a coach at United and a pundit on BT Sport.
The fact that Scholes completely retired from football before returning to top level football looking fitter than ever, makes his comeback the greatest of all.