Manchester City play host to Chelsea tomorrow night at the Etihad Stadium seeking to close the gap at the top of the table on league leaders and city rivals Manchester United to one point. The visitors, meanwhile, have ambitions of their own in keeping up the chase for fourth place with both Arsenal and potential FA Cup Semi Final opponents Tottenham within catching distance. ( Latest League and FA Cup odds via Bet Victor. )
The game, which kicks off at 7.45pm and is being shown live on Sky television here in England, will go some way to showing how far Chelsea have come under Roberto Di Matteo. Thus far the signs are promising, with four wins recorded out of four during his short tenure which have included progression to both the Semi Finals of the FA Cup and, more remarkably, the Quarter Finals of the Champions League. Last Wednesday’s heroic efforts against Napoli at Stamford Bridge may well have to be replicated tomorrow if Chelsea are to get anything from the game. Manchester City’s record at the Etihad this season has been nothing short of remarkable, with fourteen wins recorded from fourteen games there in the league with forty two goals scored in the process and a measly six conceded. Chelsea can take some hope from recent big games at the Etihad which perhaps prove that City’s home ground is not the impregnable fortress the statistics would suggest.
Last Thursday they recovered from 0-2 down to beat Sporting Lisbon but still went out of the Europa League, whilst in January they lost 2-3 at home to United in the FA Cup and were very fortunate to come away with three points against Spurs, requiring a last-minute Mario Balotelli penalty to snatch victory when Jermain Defoe appeared certain to do so for the visitors minutes earlier. In December, they beat Arsenal 1-0 in a very closely-fought game.
In fact they lost their last league outing at Swansea, too, and in doing so gave up no.1 spot to their city rivals – perhaps this might have an adverse effect on their performance. Roberto Mancini, the other Italian Roberto in the dugout tomorrow, has hinted that Carlos Tevez may return from his six-month exile to play some part – hardly surprising considering he has scored the winning goal in our last two trips to the Etihad, 1-2 and 0-1 defeats respectively.
One player certain not to feature is John Terry, who has been ruled out with the hope of returning in time for Tottenham’s visit on Saturday morning. Oriol Romeu is another confirmed absentee, but otherwise Di Matteo has a full squad to pick from for the club’s fifth game in eighteen days. Perhaps his biggest decision will be concerning who will lead the line tomorrow night, with Fernando Torres scoring twice and impressing throughout in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Leicester City. Didier Drogba’s inclusion for the crunch game against Napoli last week suggests that he favours the Ivorian in the big games so don’t be surprised if it is Drogba who starts, despite Torres’s goalscoring antics this weekend.
Chelsea’s form on the road in recent months has been pretty miserable – since the 3-0 win at Newcastle at the beginning of December we have won just once away from Stamford Bridge in the league, at struggling Wolves in early January. In that time we have also endured two consecutive torrid defeats at Everton and West Brom and draws at Wigan, Spurs, Norwich and Swansea. In fact our remaining away games after the City game take us to recent bogey ground Villa Park, local rivals Fulham and Arsenal and finally a trip to Anfield. An upturn in results on our travels is imperative if fourth spot is to be achieved. Any sort of positive result tomorrow would go a long way to putting us in the right direction and set us up very nice for the flurry of huge games which await the Blues in the forthcoming weeks.