Before Saturday's big match against Chelsea, I thought it appropriate to get some opposing viewpoint. With that in mind, I've enlisted the help of Graham, the force behind SB Nation's excellent Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History. Many thanks to Graham for his time and great answers. My questions for him follow below, in bold.
Chelsea have dominated thus far in the campaign, but have yet to face a stiff test. What about Manchester City should most worry Chelsea?
Chelsea are the most dangerous attacking side in the league, but they haven't faced too many stiff tests so far. Out of their five opponents, only Stoke City have an average-ish defence, so the 21 goals need to be taken with a grain of salt. It will be much more difficult to beat Joe Hart and a defensively-minded Manchester City, especially if Frank Lampard is still out injured. Pack the midfield and use Adam Johnson to mitigate the influence of Ashley Cole and City start to look like a very difficult side to break down. I'm not too concerned about the Milner/Tevez/Johnson attack, but you never know when they could just click and start to become a freescoring side. Hopefully it won't happen on Saturday...
Conversely, what weaknesses of City will Chelsea look to exploit most?
This is easy - City's central defence isn't really that good, and your fullbacks are nothing to write home about either. If Didier Drogba has a good day, he's going to be nightmare for the defenders to cover, and the fullbacks have the choice of collapsing in to follow the runs of Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka or holding their positions to keep Chelsea's wide defenders from getting in behind them. Either way is painful, and I think what will have to happen is De Jong and Barry will be forced to drift back and mark Chelsea's wide forwards closely, which would make City's shape pretty disjointed. Anyway, there are ways for City to deal with all of Chelsea's players, except for Drogba. If Chelsea get goals, they will come from him.
Florent Malouda is one of the most in-form wide players in the world. What is the key, if there is one, to slowing him down?
This is tough. Malouda's good enough to beat most players one on one, so even if he gets a dedicated marker that may not help too much. The reason Malouda's been so effective, apart from his being a good footballer, is that Ashley Cole has been forward so much. This enables Malouda to drift inside, where wide defenders are reluctant to follow - he's had time and space to do whatever he likes. Stop Cole supporting him, and there's less of a chance that Malouda will be free to cause havoc.
To date, Manchester City have played with three defensive midfielders. How do you think the trio of Nigel de Jong, Yaya Toure, and Gareth Barry compare to the world class duo of Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel?
Let's go with Toure first - he's pretty much Michael Essien, but slightly less capable going forwards. That makes him a very very good player, and his deep runs could cause Chelsea some problems. Happily, Chelsea do have Essien, so I'm going to call that one a wash; I expect to see those players take each other out of the game. To me the question then becomes about the defensive capabilities of de Jong and Barry vs. Jon Obi Mikel. I'm not a fan of de Jong, even though he is clearly capable of breaking up the rhythm of the opposing side. He's a pure destroyer, and that to me means anti-football. Gareth Barry is a mildly capable passer of the ball who has never quite recovered from the shock of leaving Villa's comfortable 4-4-2, but I don't think that either of them has the ability to break up an attack and quickly launch another in the way that Mikel can this year. He's been phenomenal in every facet of the game, and is doing the job of a de Jong/Barry hybrid right now, which enables Chelsea to get an extra man somewhere else on the field.
Finally, your match prediction and any other thoughts.
Some number crunching has Chelsea scoring 82 goals over the rest of the campaign for an average of about 2.5 goals per game. City's defence should knock that down by about 0.7 goals, and there's an extra 0.25 goals in home-field advantage, which leads to 1.55 goals for Chelsea. A similar set of calculations gives us 1.47 goals for City, which surprises me a little bit - I thought for sure they were going to come out ahead there.
Still, that's both sides very closely balanced on about 1.5 goals per game, which means that I'll go Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea just because I am a natural pessimist.