Man City boss Pep Guardiola surprised by Chelsea's poor defence of Premier League title

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Pep Guardiola has professed his surprise at Chelsea‘s poor defence of their Premier League title but praised Blues boss Antonio Conte for changing English football.

Conte secured the trophy in his first season at Stamford Bridge having arrived in the Premier League at the same time as Guardiola was appointed Manchester City boss.

The tables have turned this season and, as the pair prepare to clash at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, City hold a 16-point lead over neighbours Manchester United at the summit with Chelsea six points further adrift down in fifth.

Conte conceded after defeat to United last weekend that Champions League qualification will now be tough for the reigning champions.

While Chelsea were losing at Old Trafford, Guardiola was collecting his first silverware in England with victory over Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.

They followed up that win with another 3-0 drubbing of the Gunners on Thursday night to take them within five wins of the title.

City are just five wins away from the title after beating Arsenal 3-0.

And Guardiola admits Chelsea’s feeble attempt to defend their crown caught him by surprise but believes it has been the high standard set by his champions-elect that has made all other seasons appear average.

“If you asked me at the beginning of the season, yes,” Guardiola replied when asked if he was surprised by Chelsea’s defence.

“And now too, yes, of course, but we are doing well. We dropped few points. That’s why. The results from United, Tottenham, Chelsea, they are good.

“They are results to fight for the Premier League. We have 75 points and they still want 78 or 79, so we need 81 or 82 to be champion.

“In March we have a lot of points and there is that gap. We did it really well. But Chelsea, United, Tottenham, Liverpool have done it well, good. We did it well. The reason why there is a lot of points is we have done it really well.”

Chelsea’s season has faltered to such an extent that there has been constant speculation over Conte’s immediate future – with the Italian batting away questions on the subject on a weekly basis.

But, despite their forgettable campaign as champions, Guardiola believes Conte’s approach will have a lasting effect on the English game.

“What Antonio has done here in the Premier League, maybe the people don’t realise,” he added.

“He introduced another way to attack with five at the back, another system, a lot of teams, even Arsenal, had to do a lot of imitating to do that.

“Tactically he is a master, he did it amazingly with the national team with Italy and when he went to Turin. I think Conte is going to leave something to English football. I’m sure of that.”

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger ponders low confidence and poor away form ahead of Brighton trip

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Wenger's men have had a woeful away record in the league.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has admitted his players’ low confidence also stretches to their woeful away form as the Gunners head to Brighton on the back of two sound beatings at the hands of Manchester City.

A 3-0 defeat in the Carabao Cup final last weekend was followed by a Premier League loss by the same scoreline as City showed their superiority over an inept Arsenal side.

The league reverse was played out in front of a meagre Emirates Stadium crowd, with widespread snow and the apathy of supporters over Arsenal’s current situation leading to plenty staying away.

Wenger’s men have, on the whole, been strong at home this campaign with Manchester United the only side to leave with a victory until both Ostersund and City won there in the space of a week.

The same cannot be said of Arsenal’s away form, with just three victories from 14 Premier League games on the road.

Brighton, unbeaten in all competitions home or away since January 20, are next up and Wenger – who conceded after the latest defeat to City that confidence was low – knows the poor away record needs addressing.

“Yes,” he replied when asked if the confidence issue fed into the lowly return on their travels.

“Certainly it is and that is down to us to change it. I am always ready for a fight. I am of course very disappointed but I have experienced these situations before.

“I have been in these situations in my life and I know what it takes. Experience and the desire to change things. Does that desire still burn as strongly? Of course.”

Wenger hinted that he could freshen up his side for Sunday’s game on the south coast following a draining week of defeats.

Aubameyang looks likely to retain his place due to being cup-tied in Europe.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to retain his place as he is unavailable to feature against former club AC Milan in the Europa League as he is ineligible in that competition.

Jack Wilshere could again miss out with an ankle injury but, despite conceding he will pick a team with one eye of the opening leg of the last 16 tie in Italy next week, Wenger is still not ready to focus solely on the Europa League as a route back into the Champions League.

“Team selection always takes in mind the game after, yes,” he added.

“You always have the next game in mind when you have so many games in a row. We are in the situation where first we need to win the next game rather than do the calculations.”

Wenger may want to steer further clear of those calculations if his side lose at Brighton as the Gunners could be as far as 13 points off a place in the top four as a result.

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Battle of Kevin de Bruyne v Eden Hazard and other talking points as Man City face Chelsea

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City are looking to do the double over Chelsea after winning at Stamford Bridge.

Manchester City and Chelsea have had an intriguing rivalry in recent years. They’ve never quite met in the thick of a title race, but individual clashes have been significant and memorable.

They meet again on Sunday with Chelsea 22 points behind Premier League leaders City, and outside the top four after their loss to Manchester United last week.

So it’s safe to say the Blues need the win more their hosts do, with Pep Guardiola’s side on the cusp of securing another league crown.

Here are three talking points ahead of Sunday’s game.

DID BARCA CLASH GIVE CHELSEA THE BLUEPRINT TO STOP CITY?

There were fears that Chelsea, given their form leading into the game, were in for an embarrassing result against Barcelona last month. Yet on the day, they didn’t just provide spirited resistance, they were the better side, both in performance and in tactics.

The improved display in the 1-1 draw came about due to a commitment to an energetic pressing game, which saw them ensure they never let Barcelona feel comfortable on the ball. What was impressive was the way Chelsea’s wing-backs pressed the Barcelona full-backs high up the pitch, with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso never letting Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto settle.

That performance could serve as the blueprint for how Antonio Conte sets up his side against City. Moses and Alonso can harass Kyle Walker and Danilo into mistakes, or at least prevent them from tearing down the flanks.

Meanwhile, N’Golo Kante can shadow Kevin de Bruyne, leaving Cesc Fabregas or Danny Drinkwater free to pick out a pass.

City have shown they can be vulnerable to a disciplined, incessant press. Liverpool deployed it to great effect in handing Pep Guardiola’s side their only league defeat this season.

Between that game and Chelsea’s own experience against Barca, Conte’s gameplan seems pretty straightforward.

Victor Moses starred in Chelsea's draw against Barcelona.

Victor Moses starred in Chelsea’s draw against Barcelona.

HAZARD, DE BRUYNE PLAY FOR BELGIAN BRAGGING RIGHTS

Although Kante won the Player of the Year gong last year, there was plenty of recognition for Eden Hazard being the best player in the league.

But on Sunday, he may not even be the best player from his country on the pitch. There’s a consensus that what Hazard was last year, De Bruyne is this year – with Guardiola going as far as to say only Lionel Messi is better than De Bruyne right now.

The two Belgian playmakers going toe-to-toe is the headline clash of this fixture.

Arguably, Hazard is the one with more to prove – his big-game credentials have always been doubted, and he didn’t do himself any favours last weekend when he ended up being man-marked out of the game by Man United youngster Scott McTominay.

He was excellent in the first half, and assisted Chelsea’s goal, but being substituted with a large chunk of the second period remaining said it all.

De Bruyne lit up the first meeting between these sides at Stamford Bridge back in September with a superb goal, and on Sunday he’ll look to produce an encore.

Belgium's preeminent playmakers go head to head.

Belgium’s preeminent playmakers go head to head.

CAN KOMPANY PLAY THREE GAMES IN A WEEK?

Speaking of brilliant Belgian players, Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany may have something to say about who the best player from his country is.

Kompany was man-of-the-match in the League Cup final on Sunday, scoring a goal and leading the back line with aplomb. But he raised eyebrows by being named in the starting XI for City’s Premier League fixture against Arsenal on Thursday as well.

Two games in five days for the famously injury-prone centre-back? That was an encouraging sign, and Kompany backed it up by lasting the full 90 minutes yet again, looking untroubled by any fitness issues.

Having Kompany fit is a huge boon for City – on top form and fit, he’s arguably the best centre-back in England.

It was impressive that he played the full game twice in a row within such a short time span, but Sunday’s clash may be a step too far. With John Stones a more than capable deputy, there’s no reason to risk Kompany at all, and Guardiola may choose to not test his club captain’s fitness by playing him for the third time in eight days. It may be time to wrap Kompany in wool again.

Is three games in eight days too much for City's captain?

Is three games in eight days too much for City’s captain?

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