Proper test for revived Chelsea

Manchester City's Erling Haaland is one player to watch when they travel to Chelsea. - AP

AFTER a somewhat sluggish start to the season, big-spending Chelsea appear to be finding a bit of cohesion in their play – something that makes them pleasing to the eye and dangerous to their opponents.

In the late kickoff tomorrow, Mauricio Pochettino, who took over at Stamford Bridge only in the summer, should get a good read as to just how much progress his squad is making.

The Blues come against champions Manchester City in a clash that could well prove to be an explosive encounter with more than just one goal in it.

Chelsea’s new steely resolve was, to some extent, vividly exhibited in their captain Reece James’ decision to withdraw from the England set-up for next week’s European Championship qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia.

He cited his fitness as the reason for missing the qualifiers, and it was something that England manager Gareth Southgate said he understood, given that the right-back only recently returned to action after a long hamstring injury layoff that has sorely interrupted his campaign and Chelsea’s.

Of course, this development would have been welcomed by Pochettino, who would see it as something that the others at Stamford Bridge can learn from.

Pochettino will also be keen on his squad continuing with the sort of form that saw them bring Tottenham Hotspur back down to earth last weekend.

After a fine start under new Australian manager Ange Postecoglou, Spurs went unbeaten in their first 10 league games to sit pretty at the top of the Premiership standings.

But they were thumped 1-4 by Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to give Postecoglou a taste of just how tough this league can be.

The Blues will not expect anything less when they host City, who took over the top spot on the table.

Unlike Chelsea, who have no commitments in Europe after their disastrous campaign last season, City qualified for the Uefa Champions League last 16 in midweek.

Pep Guardiola’s charges beat Swiss outfit Young Boys 3-0 in the Group C match in Bern. And the Spaniard will call on the treble-winning side to continue in that vein.

After a bit of a blip at the end of September and beginning of October, City have hit the kind of form that easily makes them favourites to win the Premier League and Champions League again.

They scored three or more goals in each of their last four matches across all competitions. That includes the 6-1 thrashing handed out to Bournemouth last weekend and the 3-0 drubbing of Manchester United before that.

Erling Haaland, who overcame a slight injury to get two goals against Young Boys, will be the one player Chelsea might keep an extra eye on.

The Norwegian striker is coming back to his best, which also coincides with City getting back to form. He has scored seven in their last five matches, which includes the Bournemouth game in which he was substituted at half-time with an injury concern.

Rodri is the other player whom City will look to for inspiration. It was during his absence that they went through that mini-slump.

The influential Spanish midfielder is back with a vengeance now, and he could also make a telling impact at Stamford Bridge.

The Citizens, though, will have to do without England defender John Stones. Guardiola said he would be “out for a while” after he sustained another injury in the victory over Young Boys in Switzerland.

The central defender missed the first seven matches of City’s season with a hip injury and was stricken with a muscular problem in midweek.

All the same, Man City should win in London, but not before Chelsea show a bit of quality themselves, just as they have in recent outings.

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