By 90Min
March 03, 2018

Runaway leaders Manchester City host Chelsea in a pivotal game for Antonio Conte's men as they look to breathe new life into their stuttering top-four chase.

After defeat across Manchester at Old Trafford last time out, the Blues sit fifth, out of the Champions League places and a distant 22 points behind their opponents on Sunday.

By contrast, City have gotten over the shock FA Cup loss to Wigan, with two 3-0 wins over Arsenal in four days, winning the Carabao Cup last weekend at Wembley.


Classic Encounter

Chelsea's last trip to the Etihad in December 2016 was a Conte masterclass, with the Italian hanging in the game long enough to exploit City on the counter to devastating effect. 

The hosts started well, with Sergio Aguero having an early chance on Thibaut Courtois' goal. Pep Guardiola's charges took the lead after now-Blues captain Gary Cahill unfortunately turned a Jesus Navas cross into his own net on the stroke of half time. 

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The west Londoners were hanging on at times in the second half, with Kevin de Bruyne hitting the upright from three yards ten minutes after the restart. 

That lucky escape was the catalyst for Chelsea to get back into the game, with Diego Costa levelling on the hour mark. Cesc Fabregas played a 50-yard pass into his fellow Spaniard in the penalty area, who bullied Nicolas Otamendi and fired past Joe Hart. 

Costa turned provider for the second goal ten minutes later, when Willian ran clear of the City defence to stroke past Claudio Bravo and complete a stunning turnaround. 

The home side, stunned after controlling the game for the better part of an hour yet behind, threw everything at the Blues, but the three-man defence remained resolute, and Eden Hazard added a brilliant solo effort in injury time to seal all three points for Conte's men. 

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City's misery was compounded when Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho were sent off at the death to leave them with nine men. The Argentinian caught David Luiz late with a high tackle, which saw Anthony Taylor dish out a straight red card. In the ensuing scuffle between both teams, Fernandinho grabbed Cesc Fabregas and was also dismissed, having to be forcibly removed from the pitch. 

For Chelsea, it was a stunning eighth successive win to take them three points clear at the top on the way to a comfortable title victory, with Pep Guardiola's men scrambling after a chastening defeat in front of their home support.

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Recent Form

Chelsea have recently improved their performances but delivered little in the way of results, with a near-perfect display against Barcelona last week undone by one Andreas Christensen mistake to give the Catalans the advantage in their last-16 tie. 

Five days later, the Blues outplayed Jose Mourinho's Man Utd until half time, taking the lead through Willian, but succumbed to a Jesse Lingard header 20 minutes from time after the defence switched off to lose 2-1 at their fierce rivals, leaving them two points off the top four.

Conversely, the Citizens have had a mixed fortnight, with Wigan ending their quadruple dreams with a 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup fifth round last Wednesday. Unperturbed, the Sky Blues marched on to Wembley and dismantled Arsenal 3-0 in a glorified exhibition to lift the Carabao Cup for the third time in five seasons. 

As if they hadn't done enough damage in north London, City travelled to the Emirates on Thursday night and downed the Gunners by the same scoreline, with even more efficiency, to boos by the home faithful. The result extended their lead at the top to 16 points and leaves them needing only five wins to secure the title.


Team News

Ross Barkley has returned to training and may be available for Sunday's game. David Luiz remains out with a knee problem. 

Kyle Walker went off injured against Arsenal and is a doubt for the visit of the champions. Raheem Sterling is also not fully fit, with Fernandinho out with a hamstring injury. Fabian Delph is completing the final game of his three-match suspension. 


Potential Man City Lineup: Ederson; Danilo, Otamendi, Stones, Zinchenko; de Bruyne, Gundogan, Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Sane. 


Potential Chelsea Lineup: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Drinkwater, Alonso; Willian, Giroud, Hazard.


Prediction

Conte became the first manager to do a league double over Pep Guardiola last season en route to the title, and the Spaniard will be looking to avenge that feat, having beaten the Italian 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in September.

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With the Manchester side in history-making form, and buoyed by a first trophy under their manager last weekend, they should prove a formidable test for a Chelsea side out-of-sorts in 2018, although they will have to martial the in-form Willian and Eden Hazard, who has four goals in his last seven against their hosts on Sunday. 

The Blues have seen a mild resurgence with a good showing against Barcelona last week, and comfortable back-to-back wins before that, but should be overwhelmed by the attacking might of City, with Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva primed to feed Sergio Aguero and conquer the stern Chelsea back line. 

Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea

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