Fresh from their mid-week exploits in Europe, Chelsea and Manchester City return to domestic action this Sunday to face each other at Stamford Bridge. With Chelsea conquering Turin, Italy and Manchester City winning in, er, Manchester, England, any chances of a relaxing weekend have gone out the window with this top of the table six-pointer.
The Blues sit in second place in the Premier League, seven points behind City’s rivals Manchester United, while Mark Hughes’ side – the richest team in the world – are just behind in 3rd. Hang on. 4th? Lower than that? 5th? Even lower? 8th you say, thirty points off the top spot? And there I was believing that you could buy the title. Funny that.
City have been the model of inconsistency this season; impressive if not impregnable at home, but disastrous away from Eastlands with just one win all season on their travels against Sunderland on the last day of August. They have even lost to West Brom for crying out loud. An audacious bid for megastar Kaka in the winter transfer window fell through leaving them with just cack, or Craig Bellamy as he in known in wider circles, but the Welshman will miss out at the Bridge with a knee injury.
In all seriousness, City did make some shrewd moves in the winter, bringing in players to shore up their previously shaky defence. They brought in holding midfielder Nigel de Jong (albeit for a highly inflated fee), steady goalkeeper Shay Given, and our very own cult hero Wayne Bridge at left-back. Bridge is likely to receive a momentous and emotional welcome back to the (Stamford) Bridge, along with Shaun Wright-Phillips, another former Blue who left for pastures sky blue. The one that got away, Robinho, is also likely to feature. City are likely to be without a few players however, with the aforementioned Bellamy joined on the sidelines by fellow striker Daniel Sturridge, veteran midfielder Didi Hamann, and Michael Johnson, Martin Petrov and Benjani.
There transformation player-wise at City has been startling to say the least, in fact we could see almost a completely different side to the one which came to SW6 in October of 2007 – our last home meeting in the league against everyone’s favourite Manchester team – and got thumped 6-0. Reading City fan Kippax’s predicted line-up in the Matchday forum, only Richard Dunne and Stephen “Superman” Ireland make the cut this time around. Indeed, Kippax also points out that only six players still make the starting XI from when we beat City at their place earlier this season.
While we can’t boast a heavy player turnover this season, we can welcome back some vital components to our Blue machine. Michael Essien marked his first start since the beginning of the season with a goal against Juventus, while Ricardo Carvalho also made it onto the pitch against the Old Lady with a brief cameo towards the end of the 2-2 draw. On-loan winger Ricardo Quaresma returns to the first-team fold after missing out on the Champions League game due to being cup-tied, which means that Joe Cole aside, Guus Hiddink has a full strength squad to pick from.
We could see what Hiddink’s intentions are for the rest of the season now, and how he aims to fit certain players into certain systems. Notorious for getting the best out of players at his disposal, we could see the beginning of an exciting climax to the season on Sunday. We may not be the richest club in the world, but we can show against Manchester City that we are certainly one of the strongest.