Chelsea surprised many – including us – on Monday night when they were not only the first team this season to avoid defeat at the Etihad (in the Premier League), but they actually beat Manuel Pellegrini’s men! Branislav Ivanovic’s first half strike was ultimately enough to separate the sides and despite it being an open game with plenty of chances, it ended 1-0 to the visitors.
Jose Mourinho can take much credit for how he set his side up; instead of “parking the bus” as many assumed he might, his men took the game to City from the opening whistle. Chelsea defended in numbers when they had to, but always gave themselves the option to counter, which they did successfully on a number of occasions against a City side who simply didn’t put in as much legwork as their opponents on the night.
The victory moves Chelsea level on points with City and two behind leaders Arsenal (who have 55). Despite Mourinho suggesting his side are the third favourites for the title, the fact that the Blues have done the league double over City is highly significant and could well give them the impetus to kick on towards Premier League glory.
There will be many tough obstacles to negotiate between now and May, however, starting with a potentially difficult home match against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle on Saturday. Not only did the Magpies beat Chelsea 2-0 at St James’ Park in November, they won by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge in 2012. Chelsea beat them in London last year, but it is clear that – on their day – Newcastle can mix it with the big boys. Having said that, a morale-sapping 3-0 home defeat to arch rivals Sunderland and the sale of probably their best player – Yohan Cabaye – during the January transfer window doesn’t make for great preparation for this one.
Newcastle have been effective on the road this season (in stark contrast to last term when they won just twice on their travels). With six away victories under their belts – including triumphs over Manchester United and Tottenham – and their home win over Chelsea we think the visitors will certainly give it a go at the Bridge. But the confidence and belief fostered by their massive win on Monday will mean Chelsea simply won’t let themselves slip up and undo much of the good work.
As such we think Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard will do their stuff here and run rings around Newcastle’s midfield and defence (as Sunderland did to such great effect last weekend). While there is a slim chance Newcastle could upset the applecart if they get an early goal, we simply can’t see it happening and think Mourinho will mastermind another victory as he tries to guide his team towards the title (even if he denies they are capable of such a feat!).
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-0