Manchester City are on a run of five wins in their last six Premier League outings and welcome Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola’s side has been on something of a resurgence lately in their bid to retain their crown while Chelsea’s form has been patchy at best but do find themselves coming off a 5-0 victory over Huddersfield.
Here, we look at the talking points ahead of the encounter.
THE PREDICTABLE VS THE UNKNOWN
There is a lot of respect between Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola and it’s easy to see why. A mutual admiration of each other’s philosophy is only natural given the similarities they share, particularly in terms of dominating possession, employing a high defensive line and playing out from the back.
“I met him last season when we played against Napoli and I was so curious because I enjoyed, a lot, watching his Napoli,” Guardiola said on Saturday.
However, while Sarri is an idealist, obsessed with perfecting a specific system, Guardiola is nothing if not innovative. The Catalan has a set of principles that governs the way his teams operate but there’s always plenty of leeway for tinkering as per the personnel at his disposal or indeed the opposition he faces.
Any Fantasy Premier League manager picking his team or football journalist previewing a City game (hey there!) will attest to the difficulty of guessing Guardiola’s selection or formation. Even Unai Emery would’ve been caught off guard by his decision to play Fernandinho as a centre-back during a 3-1 win over Arsenal with the Brazilian often stepping up into midfield in possession.
In contrast, Sarri never – ever – deviates from his tried and tested 4-3-3 formation. The only question marks have been over his team selection as he tried to choose between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front, sometimes opting for neither and playing Eden Hazard there instead.
Guardiola – like the rest of us – know who Chelsea will field and how they will play, it’s only stopping them that needs working out. How City set up on the other hand, no one can really say with authority.
AGUERO THE DANGER MAN
With five goals and an assist in his last six league starts, Sergio Aguero has been pivotal to City’s recent form. His goals, including a hat-trick against Arsenal has seen their title defence gather momentum.
The Argentine has always been a talisman or the Citizens and Guardiola hopes he can continue on this rich vein of form as Chelsea visit the Etihad Stadium.
“The big players need to appear in the key games, the big moments, and he did it. Hopefully he can continue doing it. In the big games we need important players,” Guardiola said.
Aguero is indeed the man for the big occasion, regularly plundering goals against top six opposition. Chelsea of course know all about his exploits. The striker has scored 12 goals and assisted three in 16 appearances against them.
Meanwhile, another City goalscoring milestone beckons for Aguero. With 157 league goals, he is one short of equalling the club record held jointly by Tommy Johnson and Eric Brook.
On current form, City must be favourites at home to Chelsea. After stumbling during the festive period, the Manchester outfit have recovered and have the bit between their teeth now.
“At the moment, in my opinion, Manchester City are the best team in Europe. They are an example for every club,” Sarri said ahead of the encounter.
However, Guardiola will be haunted by his past meetings with the west London club. He has suffered more league defeats (three) against Chelsea than any other team in his career as a head coach.
For all of his side’s domination of possession in the first half at the Bridge earlier this season, Guardiola still came away from the game scratching his head as he was left to mull over a 2-0 defeat.
All signs point to a City win but football is rarely that straightforward and when it comes to Chelsea, Guardiola knows that better than anyone.
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Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Mohamed Salah got the goals as Jurgen Klopp’s side produced a classy display to cruise to victory.
Here’s a look at how the players rated.
Alisson 7 – Had little to deal with in the Liverpool goal, just what the doctor ordered after a few shaky displays. When he was called into action, the Brazilian didn’t put a foot wrong.
James Milner 8 – If the Reds do win the title, they will owe a lot to Milner’s versatility. An assist from right-back as his cross was perfectly delivered for Sadio Mane to score.
Joel Matip 8 – Another solid display from Liverpool’s third-choice centre-back. Matip’s form has given Klopp a welcome headache as he’ll have a decision to make when Joe Gomez makes his return from injury.
Virgil van Dijk 8 – Anchored Liverpool’s first clean sheet in four games and just their second in 2019, producing another imperious performance at the back.
Andrew Robertson 8 – Another productive display from the Reds’ star full-back, who looked stunning going forward as well as being equally consistent in defence.
Georginio Wijnaldum 8 – A beautiful goal to double the advantage, nonchalantly chipping over Artur Boruc to put his side in command. Part of an all-action performance from the midfielder.
Fabinho 8 – The Brazilian has become the glue of this side and he was at it again on Saturday, helping Liverpool keep their foot on the gas by controlling the game in midfield.
Naby Keita 7 – Signs of improvement from the midfielder, who was the architect of the move for the third goal with a nicely clipped ball for Roberto Firmino.
Mohamed Salah 8 – Scored his fourth goal in five games, rounding off a flowing move with a wonderful first-time finish to stretch his lead atop the league’s scoring charts.
Roberto Firmino 8 – Produced a lovely back-heeled assist for Salah’s goal, another reminder of what he brings to this Liverpool team. Should have scored late on, producing a tame shot at the end of a break.
Sadio Mane 8 – Settled any nerves Liverpool may have been feeling with a good header for the opening goal – scoring for the fourth straight game – and was typically lively throughout.
Virgil van Dijk has made more tackles without being dribbled past in the Premier League this season than any other player.— Coral (@Coral) February 9, 2019
23 tackles and not one person made it out the other side. #LFC pic.twitter.com/QxuNncrMWn
Trent Alexander-Arnold 6 – A welcome return for Liverpool, as the young right-back had missed the Reds’ last three games. Missed a glorious chance to score right at the end.
Divock Origi N/A – A late entrant to proceedings, coming on for Mane in the 87th minute, but had no chance to affect the game.
Daniel Sturridge N/A – Came on in the 90th minute for Firmino, with little time to make an impact.
Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with a comfortable 3-0 win over Bournemouth at Anfield.
The Reds put aside their recent anxieties as they lifted themselves three points above champions Manchester City with goals from Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah.
Mane rewarded Jurgen Klopp’s men for their early dominance by heading home his fourth goal in four matches after 24 minutes and Wijnaldum added a second with a neat lob 10 minutes later. Salah made victory certain early in the second half and the Egyptian also hit the bar in a confident display.
Both Liverpool and City have now played 26 games but the champions will have a chance to return to the summit when they host Chelsea on Sunday.
Paul Pogba scored twice as Manchester United moved into the top four – for a day at least – with an impressive 3-0 win at Fulham. Anthony Martial was also on target as United registered their 10th win in 11 matches in all competitions under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Martial set up Pogba’s opener after 14 minutes and doubled the lead before the interval. Pogba’s second came from the penalty spot after Juan Mata was fouled.
Fulham remain 19th in the table and well adrift of safety after their 17th loss of the campaign.
Cardiff climbed out of the bottom three as they snatched a dramatic 2-1 win over Southampton in a remarkable finish at St Mary’s Stadium.
Kenneth Zohore struck for the Bluebirds, who were playing their first match since confirmation of the death of record signing Emiliano Sala, in the third minute of stoppage time.
Jack Stephens thought he had saved a point for Saints when he turned home from a corner just moments earlier. Sol Bamba had opened the scoring after 69 minutes.
Bottom side Huddersfield slumped to their 19th defeat as Arsenal won 2-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Alex Iwobi opened the scoring after 16 minutes when his volleyed effort slipped through the grasp of Ben Hamer. The effort did appear to take a deflection off Terence Kongolo but it was nevertheless a poor one for the keeper to concede.
Alexandre Lacazette struck the Gunners’ second on the stroke of half-time after good work from Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Huddersfield’s consolation came in the form of a late own goal from Sead Kolasinac.
Watford piled the pressure on their former manager Marco Silva as the Hornets beat Everton 1-0 at Vicarage Road.
Andre Gray scored the winner after 65 minutes, sweeping home a Will Hughes ball after a neat backheel from Craig Cathcart.
Everton did hit the woodwork through Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lucas Digne but their recent slump continued. It was the Toffees’ 10th defeat in 16 games in all competitions.
Wilfried Zaha rescued a point for Crystal Palace as Roy Hodgson’s side hit back for a 1-1 draw against West Ham at Selhurst Park.
Zaha netted from a tight angle 14 minutes from time to cancel out Mark Noble’s first-half penalty.
Noble had struck from the spot on 27 minutes after goalkeeper Vicente Guaita fouled Michail Antonio.