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Back Manchester City to beat Chelsea and over 2.5 goals. This match should be more open than the one at Stamford Bridge, but we fancy Pep Guardiola’s side to come out on top once more.
For the second time this week, Manchester City will lock horns with Chelsea on Sunday. The first meeting ended as we predicted, with Pep Guardiola’s side winning and keeping a clean sheet. It was not a one-sided game, though, and Chelsea may have felt a little hard done by to have departed empty-handed.
The Blues were the better team in the first half, as City struggled to get going. Guardiola made some puzzling tactical decisions, lining his team up in a hybrid formation which saw the Premier League champions defend with a back four and attack with a back three. It was a worthy experiment but one which did not pay off on the day.
Crucially, Guardiola did not let stubborness get the better of him. He switched to a more conventional shape at half-time, introducing Manuel Akanji and Rico Lewis. City were immediately more threatening and they won the game in the first 25 minutes of the second half, with Jack Grealish teeing up Riyad Mahrez (both substitutes) for the winning goal.
It was a crucial victory for City, who capitalized on Arsenal dropping points in a 0-0 draw with Newcastle United two days prior. The holders are now just five points adrift of the table-topping Gunners, with the two sides yet to play each other this term. Despite Arsenal’s blistering start to the campaign, the best online sportsbooks have City down as title favorites.
They are also fancied in the FA Cup, a competition they have not done as well in as they should have in recent years. Indeed, whereas Guardiola has lifted the EFL Cup four times since his move to the Etihad Stadium, City have won just one FA Cup since 2011. That is a statistic they will be looking to change this year.
Chelsea are not in a great place right now, but Graham Potter will look to take the positives from Thursday’s defeat. City are probably the best team in Europe but they had to work extremely hard for their three points last time out. Chelsea were unfortunate with injuries yet they still played reasonably well in the first half and came on strong in the closing stages.
Still, even the most optimistic of Blues fans would not argue that the club is performing well right now - on or off the pitch. Chelsea are 10th in the Premier League, 10 points adrift of the top four and only three points outside the bottom half.
Graham Potter has yet to convince the supporters that he is the right man for the job. Replacing Thomas Tuchel was never going to be easy. The German, who won the Champions League in 2021, remained popular with Chelsea fans right until the end of his tenure. Potter is clearly a talented coach but he had no prior experience at the highest level.
There is no danger that the former Brighton & Hove Albion boss will lose his job any time soon - and nor should there be. Potter deserves time to turn the situation around and build a team in his image.
But Chelsea finished third last season and then spent more money than any other club in the world in the summer transfer window. They should be doing much better than this.
The FA Cup could potentially have provided Chelsea some respite, but they have been handed the toughest possible third-round draw. When it rains, it pours.
Matches like this can be difficult to predict, since we do not know the extent to which the two managers will shuffle their packs.
Guardiola will no doubt be tempted to rest one or two regular starters. They face Southampton in the last eight of the EFL Cup on Wednesday, before upcoming crunch clashes with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
Potter desperately needs a win so he cannot afford to name a completely weakened team, but the likes of Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic could all miss out through injury, joining the likes of N’Golo Kante and Reece James on the treatment table.
After a tight encounter on Thursday, this is likely to be a more open affair. That is in part because the third round of the FA Cup does not tend to be taken as seriously as the Premier League, and also because both teams could ring the changes.
Back Manchester City to win and over 2.5 goals in what could be an entertaining affair at the Etihad Stadium.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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