If the media is to be believed, Saturday afternoon is where our season begins. They discount our previous five games – and five wins – due to the supposed weak nature of our opposition, refuse to accept that we are top of the Premier League because we are the best team in the Premier League, and fail to acknowledge our scintillating attacking play coupled with our stringent defending.
Instead, they look to our game against Manchester City as the holders’ first true test. After another summer of crazy spending, City now tout themselves around as true title contenders, and they proudly sit inside the top four after their opening five games of the season – which do seem to count, incidentally.
But an inconsistent start to the season has seen ones across the board, with one win, one draw and one defeat away, plus one draw and one win at home. All that is missing is a defeat at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Like Chelsea, Man City crashed out of the Carling Cup in the week, as a weakened side – featuring a number 50, Abdisalam Ibrahim, and a number 60, John Guidetti – went down 2-1 to Roberto Di Matteo’s West Brom side. Their last league game saw a 2-0 win at Wigan, which followed an identical scoreline in Austria, as they negotiated their way to a win in Austria against Red Bull Salzburg. Their last home game, however, saw Blackburn hold City to a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
City have a lengthy injury list – a possible explanation for their squad numbers almost reaching triple figures – with Wayne Bridge, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mario Balotelli, Jerome Boateng and Aleksandar Kolarov all reported to be doubtful ahead of the match.
Chelsea have their own list of missing persons, with Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou both pulling up against Newcastle in the week with muscle injuries, while Frank Lampard is also set to miss out again following a setback in his return to fitness following a hernia operation. The lively Josh McEachran – excellent after coming on as a substitute in the midweek Carling Cup game – should find himself among the substitutes. Nicolas Anelka will be playing against his former team, and looking to continue his bright start to the season. Man City have scored six goals in the league so far, as many as Florent Malouda.
City got the better of Chelsea in both meetings last season, with a resilient 2-1 win in Manchester eclipsed by a Chelsea collapse at the Bridge in late February, with the away side running riot and securing the three points with a 4-2 win. However, for the four previous seasons, Chelsea picked up 24 points from 24. Their last win at the City of Manchester Stadium came in September 2008, when goals from Ricardo Carvalho, Lampard and Anelka cancelled out a Robinho – remember him? – opener. John Terry saw red late on in that game, while City’s side on that day featured only three players who started the Wigan game last week – Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Richards.
Andre Marriner – the man who oversaw Chelsea’s Community Shield defeat against Manchester United – will be the man in the middle for the game on Saturday afternoon. He also reffed Man City’s 0-0 draw against Tottenham earlier this season, and in five games so far in this campaign he has shown a hefty 19 yellow cards, plus one red. Nigel de Jong, beware.
With Marseille and Arsenal to follow, this game does mark the start of a busy period for the Blues. The squad has been hit by a couple of injuries, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side still sit proudly at the top of the table, four points clear of Arsenal and Man Utd, and a huge seven ahead of City. A draw would be a good result in Manchester, but with City’s sketchy start to the season, is it wishful thinking to believe that Chelsea can pick up all three points instead? It would strengthen Chelsea’s grip on the title and could throw a huge spanner in the works for the Man City project. With the likes of Didier Drogba, Malouda and Michael Essien on fire and helping the Blues steamroller past all opposition, it is conceivable.