Manchester City lost ground in the Premier League title race at the weekend
Chelsea also slipped up last time out, harming their chances of a top-four finish
Both teams will be looking to bounce back at Stamford Bridge on Thursday
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The Blues are struggling in front of goal and the Premier League champions look well-positioned to take advantage.
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If they did not know it already, New Year’s weekend would have convinced Manchester City that they are in a genuine fight for the Premier League title. Because it is Arsenal that are top of the table - a team without recent experience of claiming major trophies - there has been a tendency to assume City would inevitably reel in Mikel Arteta’s men. No longer.
The best online sportsbooks continue to favor Pep Guardiola’s side, but the gap has narrowed substantially. By the time this match kicks off on Thursday, Arsenal could feasibly be 10 points clear at the summit of the standings. They face Newcastle United on Tuesday, looking to build on victories over West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion over the festive period.
A 10-point deficit approaching the midway point of the campaign would focus minds at the Etihad Stadium. It is not that City have ever really played poorly so far in 2022/23. They have, however, been careless. Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Everton was the latest example. City should have won on the balance of play, but they did not take their chances and that proved costly.
There is no need for panic, not least because City have been there and done it numerous times over the last few seasons. But Arsenal have been surprisingly relentless and Guardiola’s team therefore cannot afford to fall too far behind.
The top two are yet to play each other this season, and those fixtures will go a long way to determining whether the Premier League trophy ends up at the Emirates or the Etihad Stadium. But the first head-to-head clash is not scheduled until the middle of next month, before which City must keep pace with the unlikely table-toppers.
Chelsea began the season hoping to be involved in the title race themselves. That ambition has long since evaporated. Graham Potter had a bright start to his tenure after succeeding Thomas Tuchel in early September, but results have been subpar for a while now. There has even been talk of Potter himself being replaced.
Chelsea’s latest slip-up came in a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest on Sunday. Not for the first time this season, the Blues were bullied by their opponents. This team has become far too easy to play against, but they also lack a creative spark in attack. That combination has given them a mountain to climb in the hunt for Champions League soccer.
Indeed, Potter’s team are seven points adrift of the top four at the time of writing. In a worst-case scenario, they could be 10 points short by the time this match kicks off, with Manchester United set to face Bournemouth on Tuesday.
Chelsea’s results on either side of World Cup 2022 do not make for positive reading. They have now won just one of their last seven top-flight outings, a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth last week, and signed off for the tournament in Qatar with three consecutive defeats.
Changing managers during the season does not always bring instant results and Potter deserves time to make an impact. But although his job is not under immediate threat, the former Brighton boss is definitely under pressure heading into Thursday’s showdown with Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.
Both these teams drew 1-1 with relegation candidates at the weekend, but there were significant differences between the two performances. Chelsea were poor against Forest, who looked the more likely winners in the second half. It was another flat, timid display from Potter’s side, who were holding on for a point at the end.
City did have home advantage on their side, but they delivered a much more convincing display against Everton than their upcoming opponents did at the City Ground. They are also, to put it simply, a superior team to Chelsea.
The Blues have been poor in attack throughout the 2022/23 campaign. Chelsea rank 12th for goals scored, having found the back of the net just 20 times in 16 games. City striker Erling Haaland, the runaway leader in the battle to finish as the Premier League top scorer, has made the net bulge on 21 occasions.
Although Newcastle and Arsenal have both conceded fewer goals than City up to now, the champions have given up the lowest amount of chances according to the expected goals statistic. That should stand them in good stead against a Chelsea frontline that has often been insipid.
Back City to beat Chelsea without conceding on Thursday. The champions should prove too strong for opponents that are out of form and low on confidence.
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Teams: Chelsea vs Manchester City
Location: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Date and Time: Thursday 5 January 2023, 3:00 PM EST
How to Watch: USA Network, fuboTV
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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