Chelsea-Man City clash pits Hazard vs. De Bruyne in battle of the Belgians
It's an early summit meeting as Chelsea take on Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, with both sides aiming to land a psychological blow in the title race.
Antonio Conte's Blues have recovered from their opening-day shock against Burnley to rise to third, while leaders Manchester City have caught the eye with their impressive scoring spree so far.
David Mooney (Manchester City) and Phil Lythell (Chelsea) preview this weekend's big match.
Who's playing the better football right now?
David Mooney: While it's foolish to write off Chelsea, especially with their great performances in beating Atletico Madrid and Stoke, City's football in the last few weeks has been on another level to anything their fans have seen before. They've scored goals for fun and kept clean sheets to boot, though undoubtedly Chelsea represent the toughest game of the season so far.
The speed of City's attack has been frightening, while they've hassled and harried their opponents into giving away possession high up the field to set off another attack under unrelenting pressure. Antonio Conte pulled a tactical masterclass on Wednesday in the Champions League and he was the only boss to take six points off Pep Guardiola last season, so as excellent as City have been, this shouldn't be taken lightly.
Phil Lythell: On an aesthetic level, I would agree with David that Manchester City have certainly played the more eye-catching football, resulting in a landslide of goals. However, it must be noted that they haven't had any stern examinations so far. In fact, the only real opposition of note that they have faced was Liverpool and while they ended up winning 5-0, City could quite easily have been two goals down prior to Sadio Mane's red card.
Chelsea had a horror afternoon against Burnley and a slipshod one against Arsenal, so it's hard to make a definitive case for them, either. But a counterattacking win at Tottenham and a deserved victory following a dominant display over Atletico Madrid, one the best teams in Europe, shows they have several strings in their bow. City have the weaponry, Chelsea have the know-how. Depends on what floats your boat.
How important is this one in your pursuit of the title?
DM: It's an odd one for City, because one game over the course of the season will not define who takes the title. In both of their recent Premier League-winning campaigns, City lost at Stamford Bridge -- however, there's an underlying issue with Guardiola's team in that they've not had a great record against their rivals for some time. City haven't beaten any team that went on to finish alongside them in the top four since December 2014, which demonstrates how poor they've been against their rivals for a while. In that sense, it perhaps carries more weight for the visitors -- especially following the 5-0 win over Liverpool earlier in the season.
PL: Chelsea's 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium was perhaps the first time that everyone started to take Antonio Conte's side seriously last season. It was won on the back foot with clinically incisive counterattacks and imbued a confidence in the squad that they never relinquished. Another win on Saturday, especially coming off the back of a victory in Madrid, would certainly see expectations surge among the players and the fans.
David is absolutely right, however, in saying that one result will not dictate who wins the Premier League There are, after all, the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham to consider as well as, possibly, Liverpool. After Saturday, there will still be 31 matches remaining for each side to make up any difference. So while the immediate momentum will be with the victor, nothing will be even remotely decided.
Hazard or De Bruyne: Who is better?
DM: On his day, there's perhaps only David Silva who's better than Kevin De Bruyne at providing killer passes and through-balls. It's lucky for City fans that they've got both in their team!
While Eden Hazard is clearly a very dangerous player, and one that loves a goal against City, it's been De Bruyne operating from a deeper position that's made Guardiola's team so lethal. He's been able to pick out the forward players in front of him -- Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero -- with regularity and has created so many good chances since he arrived in 2015.
PL: De Bruyne is an outstanding player with a genuine gift for seeing passes and unlocking defences. But that doesn't put him at the level of Hazard. As David says, there are others like Silva, Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas or Tottenham's Christian Eriksen that are similarly skilled in those areas. There is nobody else in the Premier League that can do what Hazard is capable of, certainly with such regularity
His ability, his bravery, his speed of thought, his positivity and his confidence mark him out as one of the very best players in the world, in the rank below the absurdly high platform occupied by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Hazard can win matches on his own either by being the dominant force over 90 minutes or by conjuring a dazzling piece of ingenuity out of nowhere. De Bruyne is certainly world class, but Hazard is from another planet.
Where will this be won and lost?
DM: This will be a game decided by either side's ability to cope under pressure. Last season, Chelsea were great at picking off City's weaknesses -- but City have grown up a lot since their last meeting. Both teams are very strong in attack and will cause the other problems, so the defence that is able to best remain calm and organised under the immense pressure they'll face is likely to come out on top. As ridiculed as City's back line has been, don't write it off so quickly -- they've conceded just once in six games, and that was against a second-string team with Claudio Bravo in goal.
PL: The result will depend on which team is better at containing the other. City's attacking patterns can be mesmerising and all-enveloping, so Chelsea will have to be disciplined and concentrated to keep clear opportunities for Pep Guardiola's side to a minimum.
At the other end, Chelsea will be seeking to exploit City's high line with rapid counterattacks and passes over the top of the defence for Alvaro Morata or Hazard to latch on to. Perhaps City will be wise to this approach, especially in light of how Liverpool carved them open on numerous occasions and sit a bit deeper, but that would seem to go against their manager's philosophy. It will be fascinating to see how it pans out between two master tacticians.
Something that'll definitely happen during the game is ...
DM: Aguero will level City's goal-scoring record and Sterling will be booed for no reason.
PL: N'Golo Kante to become the first footballer to run the equivalent of a marathon over the course of a game.
DM: 2-2 -- City have been explosive going forward, but Chelsea have found their feet after a wobbly start to the season.
PL: 2-2 -- In agreement with David on this. Both teams look potent and positive while retaining some weaknesses.