The biggest match of the weekend in the Premier League — and perhaps in the whole of Europe — sees the reigning champions take on the biggest title favorites. Chelsea and Manchester City meet at Stamford Bridge in a match that promises goals, intensity, active managers on the sideline and general entertainment.
City come into this game having won their last seven matches with 24 goals scored and only 2 conceded. Everything looked positive for Pep Guardiola’s men ahead of the visit to Chelsea, but on Thursday we’ve learned that Benjamin Mendy is basically out for the season with a bad knee injury and Sergio Agüero is out for at least a month with a broken rib as a result of a car accident in Amsterdam.
Despite missing two very important players Pep should still have a strong squad to face Antonio Conte’s champs, so let’s take a look at how the teams are expected to line up at the Bridge:
The unfortunate injury to Sergio Agüero gives Pep Guardiola the chance to return to the specific team that played the best football under the Catalan manager: when Gabriel Jesus arrived in January, there was a period of 5-7 games where the Blues were simply sensational with a front three of Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
During that amazing run of great wins and many goals, the trio was a nightmare for defenses thanks to their pace and skill. There was a sense of electricity about the team, and while the partnership between Jesus and Agüero has worked well at the start of this season, there’s no doubt that Gabriel works better as the front man flanked by the frightening speed of Sterling and Sané.
There is a chance Guardiola returns to a 3-5-2 formation for this game, but that was built specifically for Agüero and Jesus to work as a striking partnership. With Sergio on the sidelines it makes sense for Pep to go with a 4-3-3 with Jesus, Sterling and Sané up front. The only real doubt is who starts at left-back in place of Mendy, and given Fabian Delph played in the Champions League game against Shakhtar, it’s safe to bet on Danilo starting against Chelsea.
Predicted XI: Éderson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Danilo; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Jesus, Sané
Antonio Conte will miss his best center-back from last season, David Luiz, who will serve the final game of his three-game suspension for a straight red card against Arsenal two weeks ago. Andreas Christensen is the natural replacement for Luiz, though Antonio Rüdiger is also in contention to start at the back.
Conte made a slight alteration to their usual 3-4-3 from last season, deploying a 3-5-2 formation against Atlético, with N’Golo Kanté, Cesc Fàbregas and Tiémoué Bakayoko as a midfield three behind Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata. But given the Blues played in Madrid on Wednesday night and are playing on a Saturday afternoon, the Chelsea manager will likely rotate his side a little bit and return to last season’s 3-4-3.
If that’s the case, Fàbregas will drop to the bench with Pedro coming into the front three along with Hazard and Morata. Chelsea will play at home and look to attack, so it makes sense for them to use a more attacking formation. Having a 3-4-3 also allows Chelsea to have more bodies on counter-attacking opportunities, which will surely come against a City team that plays such a high line when attacking.
Predicted XI: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kanté, Bakayoko, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard
Man City: Éderson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Jesus, Sané
Chelsea: Courtois; Rüdiger, Christensen, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Kanté, Fàbregas, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard, Morata