Chelsea will be hoping to recreate their December heroics by beating Premier League leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Less than two months ago, Maurizio Sarri’s side went from a shock 2-1 defeat on the road against Wolverhampton Wanderers to an even more surprising 2-0 victory over Pep Guardiola’s defending top-flight champions at Stamford Bridge, in less than 72 hours.
It was a win that at the time, seemed a near-impossibility and given the Blues’ recent inconsistencies, a carbon copy of this on Sunday would be just as, if not, even more surprising, especially combined with City’s recent resurgence in form.
As they prepare to lock horns just a fortnight prior to the Carabao Cup final, which will put these two Premier League champions of past and present against one another, here is who we predict will play for Sarri’s side for their trip to Manchester.
Predicted line-up: (4-3-3) Kepa Arrizabalaga; Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz, Marcos Alonso; N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Ross Barkley; Willian, Gonzalo Higuain, Eden Hazard
Predicted substitutes: Willy Caballero, Andreas Christensen, Emerson, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Pedro, Olivier Giroud
In City’s 39 competitive matches this season they have failed to score on just two occasions, one of those saw Kepa Arrizabalaga keep his eighth Premier League clean sheet of the season. Now on 11 for the campaign, Kepa will be hoping to reach number 12 against a side who have netted 112 goals already this season.
After missing out on last week’s 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield Town as a minor injury concern, Antonio Rudiger may return in place of Andreas Christensen in the heart of Chelsea’s back line, recreating the same defensive force that shutout City earlier this season, pairing David Luiz in the middle. Spaniards Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are likely to keep their places in the side, occupying the full-back roles respectively.
Against Huddersfield, an exemplary midfield performance from Ross Barkley certainly impressed the Blues’ faithful and would have certainly made an impression to Sarri. With the Italian manager unlikely to change personnel following recent success, Barkley could maintain his place on the left side of the three-man midfield, starting alongside N’Golo Kante and Jorginho for what would be the ninth time in the league this season.
Much like his midfield, a stellar showing from the attacking trio of Willian, Gonzalo Higuain and Eden Hazard was far too much for Huddersfield to handle, as between them, they had a hand in all five goals. Sarri expressed in his post-match interview last Saturday a real desire to continue to play Higuain and Hazard together more often, with Willian set to be the man that completes the side.
A win away at City is a feat that has only been managed by Lyon and Crystal Palace in all competitions this season. Whilst Sarri’s side have shown this season that on any given day, anything is possible, a win at the Etihad is a challenge that could prove to be difficult for the Blues.
Score prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea