Manchester City and Chelsea in early Premier League showdown
It's the first big match of the season as Manchester City host champions Chelsea on Sunday. Will there be any early clues as to who'll win the title? David Mooney (Manchester City) and Mark Worrall (Chelsea) look ahead to the match at the Etihad ...
Assess both sides' form going into this one
Mark Worrall: Chelsea's preseason was underwhelming and Jose Mourinho's men looked sluggish in their opening Premier League draw against Swansea City last weekend. But I'm sure David would agree that current form typically counts for little when these two square up to each other.
That said, City came flying out of the traps at West Brom on Monday night -- and the 3-0 win would have given manager Manuel Pellegrini a much-needed fillip given his apparent lack of job security at the Eithad.
Against Swansea, Chelsea's backline were both ponderous and porous. John Terry is not getting any younger, and seeing Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic struggle so badly does not build confidence ahead of them facing City's attack. Sergio Aguero, David Silva and new-boy Raheem Sterling must be rubbing their hands in anticipation at the prospect of having a go at the champions.
David Mooney: Mark's spot-on with form -- there's very little to go on at this stage in the season, but from a City point of view it feels like it's a good time to play Chelsea. The champions will be without Thibaut Courtois, and while Asmir Begovic is an excellent goalkeeper, he's not the No. 1, and there are distractions coming off the pitch with the ongoing saga around manager Mourinho and doctor Eva Carneiro.
It looks like Pellegrini's side are in a good place at the moment, having had a confidence-building clean sheet for Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala at West Brom while Yaya Toure seemed like he was back to his best, too.
It'd be a big surprise if the manager didn't go with Aguero up top. Throw in Jesus Navas and Sterling and it could be difficult for the visitors. However, Mourinho is a master of getting a defence organised for a result.
Is it too early for this to be labelled a must-win?
DM: It's not really a must-win. However, if you offer the temptation of a five-point lead over the team expected to challenge for the title with City this early in the campaign, it's easy to see why some would be getting a little excited at the prospect.
The home side are probably in the better place for this game right now. Pellegrini's side at worst can only find themselves a point behind their rivals and it's probably worth taking that risk in a bid to go five clear. There's very little sense in the hosts playing safe so early, with that mouth-watering prospect of opening up a big lead there for them.
MW: I'd be more inclined to say it's a must-not-lose game. To be five points behind City after just two matches would be problematic, and Mourinho is already under scrutiny following his public row with Carneiro. Losing at the Etihad on Sunday could spark Crisis Club Chelsea headlines.
Joking aside, with Blues owner Roman Abramovich reported to be angry at Mourinho's actions, a bad result against City strain their relationship.
Mourinho's first stint as Chelsea manager ended dramatically in September 2007 after a lacklustre start to the season ...
Where will this be won and lost?
MW: Mourinho has the nous to set Chelsea up perfectly for a smash-and-grab raid at the Etihad. After the slip-shod defensive performance against Swansea, the infamous Blues bus could make a reappearance on Sunday, parked in Begovic's goalmouth.
Terry, Gary Cahill, Ivanovic and Azpilicueta could be supplemented by Kurt Zouma, Ramires and Nemanja Matic in a bid to stifle the likes of Aguero, Silva, Sterling and Toure.
Eden Hazard will be tasked with tormenting City's backline and Diego Costa will be mixing it as he always does.
DM: The full-back positions, especially on the left, is one that hasn't been improved for some time, and the prospect of Hazard running at either side of the back four won't fill many with confidence.
Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy have their limitations, while on the right, Pablo Zabaleta is yet to feature since returning from the Copa America.
If Mourinho decides to park that bus, as Mark suggests, it'll all come down to how David Silva can find space and how Yaya Toure fares up against Matic.
What's your combined City/Chelsea XI?
MW: Courtois; Ivanovic, Kompany, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic; Toure; Silva, Hazard; Aguero, Costa
If this team contested the World Cup final on Sunday, they would win. Silva and Hazard linking up with Aguero and Costa sounds like a template for a fantasy football team. It's perfect.
DM: Courtois; Zabaleta, Kompany, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Toure; Silva, Hazard, Aguero; Costa
The only difference between my team and Mark's is at right-back and the reasoning is pretty much the same. I understand completely why he's gone for Ivanovic, but the way Zabaleta links up with the right midfielder week on week is something that's impossible to ignore.
MW: Manchester City 0-1 Chelsea -- A Mourinho master class is in prospect; look out for him parking the bus.
DM: Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea -- Pellegrini's camp seems a little happier right now, and there's not a better time to attack the champions, so why not take the risk?