By Tyler Strauss

How can Chelsea beat Manchester City at the Etihad? That’ll be the question on everyone’s mind this coming Sunday.

It’s not often that we get to see this high profile of a competition so early on in a campaign. However, this year, the schedule puts the last two Premier League champions against each other on the second week of matches.

In order to see the keys to success this early in the campaign, it’s important to see how the preseason, and first matchweek performances went for each club.

Manchester City bossed West Brom all over the pitch in their first match of the campaign. They won 3-0, but it could have been so much more. They scored just a few minutes into the contest and refused to look back from there. David Silva was key for the Citizens, controlling the match from start to finish. Yaya Toure looked back to his old self, a worrying concept for the rest of England.

Conversely, Chelsea struggled against Swansea at home. There’s no hiding the fact that most people thought three points should have been a comfortable result for the reigning champions but this was not the case.

Chelsea did manage to strike first blood through Oscar, who was one of the high points for the Blues early on. However, Swansea leveled the score soon after. Chelsea bounced back pretty quickly through Willian’s shot, which lead to own goal. However, they were unable to hold on, eventually going down to 10 men with the Courtois penalty and red card.

From then on they were unable to find a winner and Chelsea were left with a 2-2 draw at home, a result that most found disappointing.

The preseason was not any better for the Blues, who failed to find a victory in all the matches they played, including the Community Shield against Arsenal.

Manchester City had a slightly better preseason than the Blues, finding both wins and losses.

So now that we’ve covered the teams so far, what are the keys for Chelsea if they’d like to beat this rejuvenated Manchester side?

First and foremost has to be correcting the weakness that Jefferson Montero made so obvious a week prior. Find a way to stop the bleeding on the right side of Chelsea’s defense.

Branislav Ivanovic was the best right back in the Premier League during last campaign. That’s not a question. However, he’s never been the best 1 on 1 defender. Especially considering that he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with pacey wingers like Montero or even Manchester City’s shiny new toy, Raheem Sterling.

The young Englishman has much to prove, considering his exorbitant price tag. He’ll be looking to begin the justification of his big money move on Sunday, with Ivanovic looking an easy target as of late.

Mourinho will need to find a way to nullify this attack. With Chelsea relatively short on defensive players, he may opt to include Zouma in the defensive midfield alongside Matic and push Fabregas forward. Especially keeping in mind that Oscar is doubtful for the match as confirmed by Mourinho in his pre match press conference. Zouma could play a man marking type role, or just simply be a reinforcement on that side, keeping in mind Zouma’s blistering recovery speed.

Furthermore, Chelsea will need creativity in attack. Eden Hazard will be a key fixture in this match, posing a threat going forward and cutting inward toward the middle of the park. Willian will need to do his part on the wing, pressing high and tracking back when need be.

Diego Costa will be key up front, hopefully in good enough health to bully defenders and create his own chances. Additionally, if Cesc is employed higher up the pitch, the two may rediscover their deadly partnership of last season, and combine for several chances on the afternoon.

Finally, Nemanja Matic will need to be perfect for the Blues. Typically his battle with Yaya Toure has been defining for the Blues. It’ll be vital for him to shut down the Ivorian and not allow him any attacking license.

Begovic should be fine between the sticks for the Blues, and Jose will be confident of the Bosnian shot stopper. Having such a strong deputy highlights how brilliant the move for the 28-year-old has been, given the Courtois red card.

Chelsea will have their work cut out for them against City. I tend to think that a low scoring affair favors the Blues. They’ll want to go into the Etihad, defend with tact and precision, and counter with speed when possible. Look for Hazard and Willian to spearhead the Chelsea counterattack while stalwarts like Terry, Cahill and Azpilicueta will have to keep Man City’s potent attackers out.

While most will consider this to be somewhat of a title deciding match, we must remember that it’s so early on in the campaign. A draw would be a fine result for both teams, and a victory for either team won’t spell defeat for either club in their title aspirations. However, the match will go a long way in setting the tone for this year’s season, giving either team momentum, and showcasing some of the finest talent in the Premier League. My prediction is a 1-1 draw between the clubs, similar to what we saw last season. A draw favors Chelsea, and I believe that we’ll see a classic Jose Mourinho performance at the Etihad.

For more from Tyler Strauss, follow him on Twitter.

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