The biggest Premier League game this coming weekend takes place at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, when resurgent Chelsea take on a Manchester City side also enjoying a healthy return to form. Jose Mourinho’s men, who are on a free-scoring roll and have netted 14 times while conceding just twice in winning their past four matches, head into the fixture as slight favourites. Blues supporters will be under no illusions, however, about the threat posed by City, who arrive at the Bridge on the back of two consecutive away victories.
Citizens manager Manuel Pellegrini will have been delighted by the way his charges dismantled West Ham United at Upton Park last Saturday, and followed up with an impressive midweek Champions League win in Moscow against CSKA. West Ham were dispatched 3-1, and the fluidity of City's play and goal-getting dynamism of prolific Argentine striker Sergio Aguero made it hard to believe that it was their first league win on the road this season. Aguero was also on target against CSKA, scoring a brace for the second game in succession, and in doing so, combining well once more with fellow forward, Spain international Alvaro Negredo. The duo look set to start up front for City on Sunday and will provide Chelsea's defenders with as stern an examination of their capabilities as they are likely to face all season.
The Blues looked every inch a top European club in Tuesday night's 3-0 Champions League win against Schalke in Germany, when renaissance man Fernando Torres netted twice and consummate custodian Petr Cech looked unbeatable. There now appears to be a consistent confidence about Torres' game that hasn't been seen since the 50 million pound Spaniard signed for Chelsea in January 2011, and the striker has wasted little time in giving credit to manager Jose Mourinho for the transformation in his work ethic. "He [Mourinho] talks with me like he talks with everyone else," Torres said after the Schalke match. "I know he likes people who work and it's all about work. With him, work hard and you will have the reward." Whether or not Torres will be further rewarded by Mourinho with a start against City is open to debate, given the fact that Samuel Eto'o finally got to grips with Premier League football in last Saturday's 4-1 rout of Cardiff City. Eto’o looked fit and sharp and the goal he scored had a touch of class about it.
Torres or Eto’o? The Special One will decide in due course. Against Manchester City, he will build his team from the back to the front. In difficult games, as was the case Tuesday, everything starts with Jose’s defence. "My goalkeeper, my four defenders and Ramires and [Frank] Lampard gave us fantastic stability," gushed Mourinho, following the Schalke victory. "We knew that stability would give us the chance to keep a clean sheet and recover the ball."
"Compact," "solid," "controlled" and "dangerous" -- in that order -- are Jose Mourinho’s favourite adjectives when it comes to describing an ideal performance against testing opposition. For the match with City, in respect of team selection, "compact" and "solid" should mean a back five of Cech, Ivanovic, fit again Ashley Cole, John Terry and Gary Cahill. Against Cardiff City, David Luiz's lapse of concentration resulted in the Welsh side taking the lead. It's not an uncommon trait in the Brazilian's game, and Mourinho has yet to iron it out. With Manchester City boasting the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure, gifted players always looking to expose any defensive frailties, Mourinho cannot afford to gamble on whether or not Luiz will have his head screwed on straight Sunday afternoon. He may well decide his gung-ho talents will be better suited for Tuesday night's League Cup tie with Arsenal. "Control" will come from John Obi Mikel and Ramires, and the "danger" element, to start with anyway, will be provided by Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle and Samuel Eto’o.
The most interesting and potentially telling feature of Chelsea's recent Premier League wins against Norwich and Cardiff is that in both cases, the Blues came back from a goal down to register victory with Jose Mourinho tactically adjusting his game plan in good time and making effective use of his substitutes. In both matches, Mourinho switched to 3-5-2 and instructed his team to overrun their opponents -- which they duly did -- and when the job was done, he reverted to four at the back. It's a risky strategy, but it is a definite plan B. So far this season, away from the Etihad, we have yet to see a plan B from Pellegrini. City have, at times, looked woefully brittle at the back and failed to defend leads twice when snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at Cardiff and Aston Villa. Both those games were lost by a 3-2 scoreline, and the news that club captain and star defender Vincent Kompany remains sidelined will unnerve City supporters already harbouring concerns about the form of goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The corresponding fixture last season produced a dour, goalless draw and whilst it's hard to believe that squads with a combined current value of 820 million pounds might not muster a goal between them, spectators should prepare themselves for another tight game of few chances. However, with heavy rain forecast for the London area Sunday and referee Howard Webb officiating, incident and controversy are certain to play a part, and ill discipline could prove costly. Mourinho will have his Chelsea side well-rehearsed to cater for any adversity, including falling a goal behind, and the fact that he has a plan B, and quite probably a plan C -- not forgetting his nose which he used to "sniff" victory against Norwich -- is enough to suggest that it will be the home supporters who are cheering the loudest when Mr. Webb blows the final whistle.