Chelsea would be hoping to bounce back from mid-week defeat to Wolves as they welcome Premier League leaders-Manchester City to Stamford Bridge today. The Blue have slipped to fourth position on the table after two defeats in less than two weeks and would be hoping to get back to winning ways with the visit of the Citizens, who are yet to taste defeat in the 14-week old Premier League
Chelsea welcome the Premier League champions to Stamford Bridge in today’s late kick-off in another big clash at the top of the table. The Blues has slipped to fourth in the top-flight having only won one of their last four fixtures and face a huge task to get anything from this weekend’s blockbuster.
Sarri say Pep Guardiola’s unbeaten City, who have won 13 of their 15 games this term, are the best team going. “Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four. The result is very difficult for this, because I know in every match you have to gain points. In the last championship in Italy I lost Serie A with 91 points, so I know very well you have to gain points in every match. City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world,” he said.
Chelsea lost 2-1 at Wolves on Wednesday night despite going ahead after 18 minutes thanks to Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
“We played very well for 55 minutes. After their first goal, that was an accident because we were in full control of the match, we were suddenly another team, without the right distances and without our football. I don’t know why. I am very worried, not with the result, but for the fact we didn’t react to the first goal of the opponent. We didn’t react at all. I worried about this,” Sarri added.
Sarri made a host of changes for the trip to Molineux but the Italian doesn’t regret resting the likes of Jorginho, Pedro and David Luiz.
He said: “If you asked me after 55 minutes I would say yes, I am really very happy. Then we lost everything: our football, the result, everything, for an accident, a goal. It can happen. I don’t think it depends on the changes; it depends on the mentality of the team. We can lose a match, but not without a reaction.”
It has taken less than two weeks for the optimism generated by a 12-match unbeaten start to Maurizio Sarri’s reign at Stamford Bridge to fizzle out and this weekend the Italian faces his biggest test to date when Manchester City visit.
In fairness to the former Napoli manager, he stressed throughout the heady days of early Autumn that Chelsea were not equipped to challenge City for the title and ahead of today’s clash between the sides a 10-point gap has opened up.
On Tuesday, Pep Guardiola’s City maintained a searing pace at the top with a win against Watford. Twenty-four hours later Chelsea went down 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers – their second defeat in three Premier League games.
Sarri said his side had only played well for 55 minutes at Wolves and knows they will have to be at full tilt for 90 minutes this evening if they are to have any chance of halting the City juggernaut.
He said he expects a “big reaction” today but already appears to have settled for a top-four scrap along with London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal rather than chasing down Liverpool and champions City.
“Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four,” Sarri said after the setback at Wolves. City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world. They can win the Champions League.”
“English football has an exceptional holding midfielder,” said Pep Guardiola in August. If he had got his way, that outstanding anchorman would be a City player. Instead a player Guardiola was confident of signing will face them. Jorginho was reunited instead with Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. Rather than building a side around the Italy international, the Catalan will instead attempt to stop him constructing attacks in Chelsea vs Manchester City on Saturday.
Guardiola’s argument that Jorginho is outstanding is indisputable in one respect: the former Napoli man stands out in the statistics, topping the charts for touches and passes this season. He broke the Premier League record for most passes attempted against West Ham.
In contrast, he has been at his least effective in the two games when opponents have put a persistent, quick player around him; if not man-marking him, then certainly not allowing him to run the game.
All of which could give Guardiola a dilemma. Sergio Aguero has a prolific record against Chelsea, with seven goals in as many games, but whether or not the Argentinian is not fit, Gabriel Jesus, who the City manager believes is the best at high pressing in the world, could be a better fit for the task of stifling Jorginho. An alternative might be to use Raheem Sterling, who has begun on the left in City’s major away games so far, as a false nine.
It may suit City in another sense. Because Sarri’s 4-3-3 can be quite narrow, especially in midfield, and because N’Golo Kante has operated further upfield than many think is right, it could leave Cesar Azpilicueta isolated against Leroy Sane.
Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who like City are unbeaten, started without Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Burnley on Wednesday but still won 3-1.
With a huge ‘must-win’ Champions League game coming up next week against Napoli, Klopp may well gamble on squad rotation as they travel to seventh-placed Bournemouth for today’s early kickoff.
Victory for Liverpool would take them top, at least until City’s later clash with Chelsea.
Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur will also have a massive Champions League night on their minds when they travel to Leicester City this evening.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino will be less than pleased that his side kick off at 7:45pm GMT with a trip to Barcelona following on Tuesday – a game Tottenham will almost certainly have to win to reach the last 16 of the tournament.
Fifth-placed Arsenal have no such concerns as they host Huddersfield Town today looking to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to 21 matches.
Manchester United, who are 18 points behind leaders City and eight adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea after three successive draws, are at home to bottom club Fulham.
United boss Jose Mourinho has made 46 changes to his starting line-up already this season and all eyes will be on his selection again as he comes face to face with the original “tinkerman” Claudio Ranieri, now at the helm at Fulham.
Mourinho left record signing Paul Pogba on the bench for Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal and also started without Romelu Lukaku, but goalscorer Anthony Martial picked up an injury against Arsenal and is a major doubt to face Fulham.
Also today, Burnley host Brighton and Hove Albion while new Southampton boss manager Ralph Hasenhuttl will be in the dugout for the first time as his side take on fellow strugglers Cardiff City.
West Ham United will be seeking a third consecutive win when they host Crystal Palace in a London derby.