Battle of the Blues
Chelsea welcome Man City in early-season title bout
Published: Sep 23, 2021 05:23 PM
Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea celebrates scoring against Tottenham Hotspur on September 19. Photo: VCG

Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea celebrates scoring against Tottenham Hotspur on September 19. Photo: VCG

It is the champions of England against the champions of Europe when Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Stamford Bridge for the lunchtime kickoff on Saturday.

Games don't get much bigger than this - even five matches into the new season - and the view is that it is an early test of the title credentials of both sides, two of the most ambitious in the English Premier League and two of the strongest title challengers.

Chelsea, who beat the Manchester side in the UEFA Champions League final back in May, are top of the table having matched Liverpool goal for goal so far this season - sharing a 1-1 draw at Anfield last month despite being reduced to 10 men after Reece James was sent off for denying a certain goal with a handball on the goal line.

The Blues have also had another test of their title credentials since, traveling across the capital to play Tottenham Hotspur in an early London derby last weekend.

If it was a test it was one that they passed with flying colors. Three second-half goals settled the score and saw them leave with all three points.

Former English Premier League title winner with Blackburn Rovers Alan Shearer thinks that the West London club have what it takes.

"The Premier League title race is only just getting started, but Chelsea already look like they will be very hard to stop," Shearer said on the BBC's Match of the Day.

"Thomas Tuchel's side look seriously impressive right now, but they have done since he took charge in January.

"Even when they are not playing well or things go wrong - like it did when Reece James was sent off at Anfield last month - Chelsea still give very little away.

"As they showed in their brilliant 3-0 win at Tottenham on Sunday, the Blues have an extremely strong squad and a very good manager too."

Manager Tuchel was praised for his introduction of N'Golo Kante at the interval with the France midfielder allowing the Chelsea fullbacks Marcos Alonso and Cezar Azpilicueta to create much more of an attacking threat. All three were involved in the goals, which saw Kante score in between goals for central defenders Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger.

Chelsea's Marcos Alonso (left) challenges Tottenham Hotspur's Tanguy Ndombele on September 19 in London. Photo: VCG

Chelsea's Marcos Alonso (left) challenges Tottenham Hotspur's Tanguy Ndombele on September 19 in London. Photo: VCG

The German boss was not happy with the first-half showing, where hosts Spurs had created several opportunities but failed to break the deadlock.

"I was absolutely not happy with the first 45 minutes," Tuchel said on Sky Sports after the 3-0 win.

"In general we lacked intent, we lacked energy and needed to be more relentless in duels and to decide 50-50 balls for us.

"I had the feeling we wanted to impress by pure skills, but a game like this in the Premier League, a derby at Tottenham, it is not only about skilful play.

"It is also about aggression, about winning duels and performing better as a team. We lacked energy and spoke clearly about it at halftime."

Kante provided that energy and a platform on which to build, helping them to keep pace with Liverpool.

City, champions at a canter again last season under Pep Guardiola, are already off the pace at the top of the table. They lost their opening game, which came away at Spurs, and then dropped more points with a 0-0 home draw against Southampton last weekend.

It was a far cry from their previous home game, when they beat RB Leipzig 6-3 in their UEFA Champions League opener.

"Football depends a lot on how well we do our process in the build-up and when that happens the strikers play better, our wingers play better and our attacking midfielders play better," Guardiola said.

"Against Southampton, we struggled a little bit for that. They know it exactly. Sometimes the opponent plays well, and if you analyze why we didn't create chances against Southampton, it was for that reason."

Guardiola has pointed to the number of injuries that his side have picked up already. He has doubts over John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Aleksandr Zinchenko - and that was before a midweek trip to Wycombe Wanderers as they look to set about their Carabao Cup defence.

"We are going to play the Carabao Cup," he told the club's official website.

"We are going to see how many people recover for the next days, because we are in difficult conditions right now, but we will go there to London, Paris and Liverpool to do good games, absolutely."

There are matches against Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain to come in the next few weeks but first it is Chelsea - the team that outwitted City in their first appearance in a Champions League final.

Tuchel has his own injury concerns - and a Carabao Cup game in midweek to negotiate - ahead of welcoming the champions to the capital.

Chief among the injury headaches is a hip injury to his first-choice goalkeeper Edoaurd Mendy.

"It's a race against the pain and time. We hope he trains on Thursday so he can be back for Saturday," Tuchel said of the shot stopper.

Not that he might need Mendy, if City's game against Southampton was anything to go by.

Despite having scored 16 times in their previous three home games, Guardiola's side recorded their first (and only) shot on target in the 90th minute.

As stats site Opta pointed out after the game, this was the first they had only recorded one shot on target in a Premier League match since March 8, 2017 against Stoke City.

Shearer thinks that the advantage is firmly with Chelsea ahead of Saturday's massive meeting.

"Chelsea's next test is against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but that won't faze them," the all-time English Premier League top scorer said.

"They beat City three times under Tuchel last season, including in the Champions League final. He will be ready for Pep Guardiola again, I'm sure."

Chelsea, who last won the English Premier League title under Antonio Conte back in 2017, would take a huge boost from Tuchel getting the better of Guardiola again. The champions need a win.
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