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Preview:  Man City, Chelsea lock horns At Etihad

Exactly two weeks before Manchester City and Chelsea face off in the final of the EFL Cup, the two clubs will also do battle in a crucial Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

John Stones keeps a watchful eye on Eden Hazard

The champions have clawed their way back into the Premier League title fight and go into the weekend top of the table, while Chelsea are bidding to stay ahead of Manchester United and Arsenal in the top-four race.

December 8 was the last time Manchester City went into a gameweek as Premier League leaders, and Chelsea were the opponents on that occasion too.

The Londoners ran out 2-0 winners at Stamford Bridge to leave Man City playing catch-up to Liverpool over the past two months, and subsequent defeats to Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Newcastle United in the meantime at one stage appeared to have seriously derailed their title defence.

What was once a seven-point gap has now been eliminated, though, with Pep Guardiola‘s side having returned to the top of the table courtesy of their 2-0 win over Liverpool’s local rivals Everton on Wednesday night.

Despite leading the way, Man City still find themselves in a position of catch-up, though, with only goal difference placing them above Jurgen Klopp‘s side and Liverpool boasting the distinct advantage of a game in hand – to be played while Man City are facing Chelsea once again in the EFL Cup final.

Unsurprisingly, Guardiola’s side are the leading home scorers in the Premier League alone, and Sunday could see them become the first club to score multiple goals in 15 consecutive top-flight home games since Tottenham Hotspur in December 1965.

A trip to the Etihad Stadium is the last thing a manager under some pressure needs, but Maurizio Sarri has already masterminded one win over City this season and he will be aiming to repeat the feat on Sunday.

Just what to expect from Sarri’s somewhat schizophrenic side is anyone’s guess, having thrashed Huddersfield Town 5-0last time out, just days after being on the end of a 4-0 drubbing by Bournemouth.

City will, of course, provide a sterner test than the surely-doomed Terriers, but it was nonetheless a perfect response to Sarri’s worst result as Chelsea boss so far.

The link-up between Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain – both of whom helped themselves to two goals – will raise optimism that Chelsea now finally have a number nine good enough to allow them to aim higher than fourth, in addition to letting Hazard revert to his favoured and most dangerous position.

Man City are expected to welcome Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling back into their starting lineup after both were rested against Everton in midweek.

Sergio Aguero will lead the line, meanwhile, having scored 22 goals in his last 15 Premier League home starts and 12 in 17 appearances against Chelsea in the past.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have a clean bill of health following the 5-0 win over Huddersfield and are expected to welcome Antonio Rudiger back into the team in place of Andreas Christensen.

Higuain will spearhead the attack once again, having now scored 38 goals in 37 league appearances under Sarri.

Head To Head

No team has beaten Man City more often than Chelsea in the Premier League era, with the London outfit recording 25 victories over Sunday’s hosts.

Chelsea are also the only club to win more than two top-flight fixtures against a team managed by Guardiola, having chalked up their third with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in December.

Man City had won three in a row before that, though, including a 2-0 victory of their own when these two sides met in the 2018-19 curtain-raiser at Wembley as the league champions beat the FA Cup holders to the Community Shield.

About Ayeni Wale

Olawale Ayeni, is a Media and Communication Arts, Masters in view fellow, a graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Abuja respectively, has been in journalism right from his school days. He was a sports broadcaster with Osun state Broadcasting Corporation (OSBC). He was Sports Editor, Daily Stream Newspaper before joining Leadership Newspaper as Sports Correspondent. A lover of grassroots sports development and golf. A strong support of Arsenal FC.

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