What a difference a game can make. Prior to Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Valencia, Stamford Bridge sat beneath a cloud of anxiety and unease. Confidence, belief and faith were absent; excuses, damnations and treachery were overwhelming. But then, a resurgent Didier Drogba, a fleet-footed Juan Mata, and an unstoppable Ramires – supported by eight other brilliant individual performances – led to a team winning not only the game, not only the Champions League group, but a whole new spirit and character to boot.
Now, with Manchester City visiting the Bridge on Monday, a previously worrying prospect has turned into the mouth-watering spectacle it should be.
City lead the Premier League table after fourteen matches played, ten points ahead of Chelsea, with an unbeaten record so far this league campaign. However, their first foray into the Champions League ended abruptly last week, which proved that the expected world-beaters in City’s ranks are not quite ready to take on all challengers just yet; they are now forced to be content with the ugly stepsister, the Europa League.
Eye-catching is too tame an adjective for the majority of City’s performances so far this season though. Their starting eleven often resembles a young FIFA 12 fan’s wet dream, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, the almost Zola-esque David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure firmly establishing themselves into the upper echelons of the Premier League’s fraternity. Aleksandar Kolarov is a long-term injury doubt, while Micah Richards may struggle to make Monday’s match, but City should be able to cope with these absentees, such is the immense strength of their squad.
Chelsea will be without David Luiz – suspended after accumulating five yellow cards this season – which may actually be quite handy, as one imagines that if the similarly tempestuous Mario Balotelli starts for City, neither would last for very long on the pitch. Drogba will be looking to build on Tuesday’s rejuvenating and match-winning start with another similar stunner on Monday, while Andre Villas-Boas needs to decide whether Frank Lampard deserves a start after he missed out against Valencia.
Manchester City have held the advantage over Chelsea in recent matches between the two sides, with three wins from the last four, but the Blues were successful in the last meeting at Stamford Bridge. Luiz and Ramires both scored late on as Chelsea ran out 2-0 winners, earning almost 60% of possession in the process. Memorably, the 2007/08 match saw City ship six, with goals coming from Michael Essien, Drogba (two), Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou, and even Andriy Shevchenko.
Mark Clattenburg will be the referee on Monday, fresh from Champions League duty where he oversaw Lyon’s 7-1 away win at Dynamo Zagreb. He showed a red card in that match, his fourth of the season, with previous recipients including Jonny Evans, sent off during Manchester United’s 6-1 drubbing at the hands of City. Clattenburg has also refereed City in a 2-2 draw at Fulham this season; he has yet to make an appearance at Stamford Bridge until Monday night, although in two games there last season, Chelsea beat West Brom 6-0 and Blackpool 4-0.
If the Blues had not beaten Valencia so comfortably on Tuesday, it’s probably fair to say that not many Chelsea fans would have been so eagerly anticipating the visit of City. However, with morale boosted across SW6, Roberto Mancini’s team will arrive as equals, rather than the fêted demigods they have been made out to be.
City, we accept your challenge. May the best team win.