One-point haul from Stamford Bridge would be acceptable

Posted by David Mooney

Stamford Bridge has never been a happy place for Manchester City -- though you could argue a spell in the late 1970s made it a little bit more palatable, as City went unbeaten in three consecutive visits, winning two and drawing one. It’s simply not a fixture the fans pick out as "one we can win" when the Premier League publishes its calendar in the summer.

This year, the write-off is Sunday.

Before the remarkable game in 2010 -- when Wayne Bridge refused to shake John Terry’s hand; when Carlos Tevez kicked the slowest shot the world had ever seen and Chelsea keeper Hilario dived past it to make sure it went in; when both Michael Ballack and Juliano Belletti were sent off; when Tevez and Terry squared up over whether it was a corner or not; when City went to Chelsea and won 4-2 -- the Blues hadn't scored at Stamford Bridge in a whole decade.

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Tevez, when he opened the scoring in the 46th minute that day, became the first City player to score there since Paul Dickov -- who had netted 11 hours, 24 minutes of football earlier. For the record, there were also 19 Chelsea goals, five new City managers and three takeovers (two City, one Chelsea) in that time.

To be honest, Manuel Pellegrini could lose by two goals Sunday and still do better than most of his predecessors.

Obviously, though, things have changed at City since those days. Back when Dickov scored a late consolation in a 2-1 defeat, the club were fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table -- in a 2000-01 season where they would end up relegated. Now, they’re fighting for control of the league, sitting a point behind their hosts and three from Arsenal at the summit.

To expect a victory when playing away to Chelsea, when the strike force was a combination of Bernardo Corradi, Darius Vassell and Georgios Samaras (in a season when the home side were twice reigning Champions), was unrealistic. However, to expect one now is different: City have the tools capable of achieving it.

Talk of previous records, however, is immaterial when two clubs have undergone so much change in the last 10 years that the fixture bears no resemblance to what it used to be. In October 2004, Kevin Keegan’s 1-0 home win represented City sticking one in the eye of an eventual title winner (and it was Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea defeat, mark you), but in March 2012, Roberto Mancini’s 2-1 win over the same opposition sparked a run that saw City go on to lift the Premier League trophy themselves.

If you’re looking for omens about Sunday's match, though, I’m afraid it’s bad news. The last time this fixture was played on Oct. 27 was in 2007 -- Sven Goran Eriksson's City capitulated in a 6-0 defeat.

Mancini’s record at the Bridge wasn't brilliant by any stretch of the imagination (won one, drew one, lost two), but it represents something of a turn in fortunes for the club. I said above that the game is a write-off, but I was exaggerating somewhat -– Chelsea won't be relishing this match against a fellow title rival, and they'll know that if they don’t perform to their best, the Mancunians could easily be departing with the points.

Whether they will or not is a different matter -- it’s not as if Chelsea have a wealth of talent on the pitch or an unbeaten home league record under Mourinho to protect, is it? Oh. No, it turns out they do. Damn.

For Pellegrini, the biggest blow could be that captain Vincent Kompany has been ruled out. It would be a risk to throw Martin Demichelis in for his debut -- but fans may need medical attention should Javi Garcia line up against the attacking talents of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar et al.

Having ditched the elephant that had been standing in the corner of the Manchester City Away Form Room, this weekend is their biggest test of the season so far. City haven’t been playing particularly badly away from home, but they have been making silly mistakes that have led to defeats. But that might have all changed now with successive road victories at West Ham and CSKA Moscow.

How City’s flourishing partnership of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure will cope against one of the strongest midfields in the league is the fear for the traveling fans -- knowing how Bayern Munich over-awed City in the centre, Pellegrini might drop his 4-4-2 setup for one match to throw in extra cover: James Milner or a fit-again Jack Rodwell, perhaps.

That, though, would mean breaking up another flourishing partnership – as Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo are terrorising defences at the minute, the manager will be reluctant to change to a lone striker.

It’s going to be a match that will test the nerves of both sets of fans. Can City win? Yes. Will City win? Possibly, possibly not. Would I take a point? You bet I would.


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