Chelsea host top-of-the-league Manchester City on Saturday in the first Premier League heavyweight encounter of the season. The Blues sit three points behind both Manchester clubs in third place but come into the game following an impressive display against Atletico Madrid in midweek.
Sergio Aguero has been ruled out of the evening kickoff after suffering a broken rib as a result of a car crash in Amsterdam. Eden Hazard is expected to make his first league start of the season after his man-of-the-match performance on Wednesday.
Antonio Conte is likely to stick with a similar formation to that which served him so well against Atletico. Pep Guardiola’s free-flowing football may leave Chelsea packing their midfield, with Hazard and Alvaro Morata together up front. Chelsea deviated from their usual formation, opting for a 3-5-2 during their trip to Spain, with wide men Pedro and Willian dropped to the bench.
David Luiz is still suspended following a red card against Arsenal so capable deputy Andreas Christensen should line up alongside Ceasar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill as a back three. Marcos Alonso should start once again but there could be question marks over the right wing-back position; we could see an impressive Davide Zappacosta come in to give Victor Moses a rest.
Tiemoue Bakayoko showed real steel in the Champions League by protecting his defence and allowing N’Golo Kante to roam – the most crucial combination for Chelsea to nullify City over 90 minutes. Further forward could see some changes to inject fresh energy; Cesc Fabregas added an extra body to the midfield, but we could well see a change here with the addition of Willian.
The Diego Costa hangover was well and truly shaken off thanks to Morata and Hazard combining fluidly last time out, so they have to start.
Predicted Starting XI
Where the Game Will Be Won or Lost
Man City will want to dominate possession as they visit the champions and Conte might well allow them to have the ball and soak up the pressure. Manchester City have struggled in past years as soon as Aguero is not on the pitch, so he will be a huge loss. Kante and Bakayoko will be looking to set their steely base in midfield. If Chelsea can stifle City – and that’s a big if – Hazard and Morata could be deadly on the counter. Chelsea might look to pack the midfield once again and it will be interesting to see if Pep has a plan B to outwit the wily Chelsea manager.
With all the talk of the Manchester clubs for the title, Chelsea will want to show that they are still champions – expect a robust display. Both teams have goals from all over the pitch so defensive nouse could be the order of the day, which the Blues have in spades. Could we see one of those brave 1-0 wins for the home team?