THE Premiership season has just started and already we have the prospect of a tantalising and titanic clash of the two best teams in English football – Manchester City and Chelsea.
This is the pick of the weekend’s fixtures – if not the month – and it has the potential to develop into an explosive encounter, characterised by intricate passing and relentless attacking, traits inherent of both sides.
The opening matches of the two teams were in total contrast, Chelsea getting off to a lacklustre start in their draw with Swansea and City putting on a master-class in their vanquishing of West Bromwich Albion.
In the wake of this, the social media has been rife, and the armchair experts insistent, that the Citizens will take down the champions at the Etihad Stadium.
But it would be folly to write-off the Blues – Jose Mourinho’s team are the champions. Despite last weekend’s draw, they remain a real threat to the title aspirations of not only Manuel Pelegrini’s Man City side, but also the league at large.
They will travel to Manchester but it should not be too much of a hindrance. They have been there before and they have won there before.
Their appeal against the red card shown to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was thrown out and for this Chelsea will be considered somewhat weakened, but not be to the extent that it would ruin their chances of returning to London with something to show for their visit to the north-west of England.
On the contrary, this is an outfit that rallies together like no other squad in the Premiership when the chips are down and it has become one of Mourinho’s trademarks.
Chelsea’s kingpin Edin Hazard (pic left) was a shadow of himself when Swansea deliberately marked him out of the game. Against the City, things will almost surely be different and if, or rather when, he gets the chance to move into space or manufactures some for himself, you can count on the home team back peddling.
His strike partner Willian is nearly equally as devastating going forward and one wonders whether Pellegrini will start with captain Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala in central defence as he did against West Brom.
City, for their part, will look to Sergio Aguero (pic right), their talisman and the Premiership’s top-scorer last season, to penetrate the Chelsea rearguard. The Argentine will most likely come in for fellow centre-striker Wilfried Bony.
The addition of England international Raheem Sterling creates a new dimension and option for Pellegrini up-front. Indeed, if the former Liverpool starlet can quickly settle in at the Etihad, City’s bid to wrest the title from Chelsea will no doubt be bolstered considerably.
The creative fluency and control of David Silva and Yaya Toure in midfield was vividly illustrated and it is the duo who will be expected to plot the downfall of the Blues.
But given the nature of this game and how quickly fortunes can change, a draw appears the most likely result.
The favourites of many to win a first league title since 2004, Arsenal were humbled by West Ham last weekend and they could face the same fate when they come up against a buoyant Crystal Palace side that hit Norwich for three, en route to a deserved victory.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will know only too well that he needs to get things back on track tomorrow, least his squad starts struggling for confidence – and form.
Tottenham’s encouraging performance at Manchester United should give them a lift for the game against Stoke, who themselves played reasonably well in their opener against Liverpool, only to crash to a wonder goal near the end of regulation time.
More than a few folks have Spurs to finish in the top-five this season, and a home win today would certainly strengthen that belief.
Liverpool are in action on Monday when Bournemouth visit Anfield. The home side will be keen on nailing down a second successive victory, but it is not likely to be an easy night’s work – not by a long shot.