Manchester City v Chelsea: Lampard can pass Etihad test
Manchester City's grip on the Premier League title has been loosened, and Kevin Hatchard reckons in-form Chelsea can deal them another blow on Saturday evening.
Manchester City v Chelsea Saturday 23 November, 17:30 Live on Sky Sports
Guardiola being pushed to the limit
There was something comedic about Pep Guardiola's crazed antics during and after the 3-1 defeat at title rivals Liverpool. The way the Catalan coach screamed "Twice!" at the sky in reference to perceived injustices, and the Basil Fawlty-esque handshake with the officials that was soaked in sarcasm.
For all the smiles those outbursts may raise, they show that the Manchester City manager is still a football obsessive who feels his work at the Etihad Stadium is far from complete. Although the Citizens have won back-to-back Premier League crowns, collecting 198 points along the way, that fire still burns in Guardiola. The pursuit of perfection continues unabated, and City fans know there is no danger of anyone slacking off in the quest for a third straight top-flight title.
City are nine points behind Liverpool in the title race, and they have already dropped 11 points in this campaign. The margin for error has been drastically reduced, and although the Expected Goals statistics show that City are by far the best team in the division, the results aren't matching that analysis. At the Etihad, City have drawn with Spurs and lost to Wolves, and all four of their home wins in the league have been against bottom-half teams. Failure to beat Chelsea this weekend really would test City's resolve.
The loss of goalkeeper Ederson was keenly felt at Anfield, with Claudio Bravo deeply unconvincing in his stead, and it's not certain the Brazilian will be fully fit. Bernardo Silva is suspended, so Riyad Mahrez is likely to start.
Buoyant Blues ahead of the curve
While a former Chelsea manager starts to make waves in north London, in the western part of the capital, a former Chelsea midfielder is quietly instigating a revolution at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard was one of Jose Mourinho's most trusted lieutenants, and he clearly learnt a trick or two.
Lampard is only in his second season as a senior coach, and yet he has led Chelsea to third in the Premier League ahead of thos weekend, a point ahead of Manchester City. The Blues are there on merit - they have improved defensively after a shaky start to the campaign, and they are thrilling to watch in attack. Tammy Abraham - who scored his first England goal at senior level against Montenegro during the international break - has seized his opportunity, and has scored 12 goals for club and country this season. Alongside him in the CFC attack, Mason Mount has enhanced his burgeoning reputation, while "Captain America" Christian Pulisic has recovered from a slow start to life in England by scoring five goals in his last five appearances.
The promotion of young talent has been long overdue at Stamford Bridge, and by creating a clear pathway from the youth ranks to the senior team, Lampard has set an important precedent. That's not to say that Lampard's quiet authority hasn't had a beneficial effect on more established pros. Mateo Kovacic has been excellent in midfield, alongside him Jorginho is proving that he wasn't just being propped up by the adoration of Lampard's predecessor Maurizio Sarri, and Willian has responded well to the threats posed by his younger rivals.
Chelsea aren't anywhere near the finished article, but they are ahead of schedule. They have won their last six Premier League games, and are looking for a sixth straight away win in the top flight. They have scored at least twice in all of those five victories, and they haven't lost on the road since August.
Jorginho is available again after suspension, while Pulisic is expected to recover from the hip injury that kept him out of international duty with the USA.
Chelsea to keep it close
Chelsea are in terrific form, and Lampard has effectively blended a clutch of youngsters with the more established cadre of players. They do still throw in games where they look vulnerable in defence (Ajax tore them apart in the recent 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge) but it's worth noting they have leaked just four goals in their last six top-division matches.
City are still an incredible team, but the absence of defensive lynchpin Aymeric Laporte has really hurt them this term, and I'm not sure the "Fernandinho as centre-back experiment" is working. I believe City are underpriced here at 1.48.
I'll back Chelsea +1.0 & +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.98. If Chelsea win or draw, we win, and if they lose by a goal, we get a half-win.
Goals far from guaranteed
The market expects goals, and given that Chelsea's Premier League games average 3.67 goals and City's feature an average of four goals, you can see why.
However, if you want a reason to back Under 2.5 Goals at a whopping 2.98 or Under 3.5 Goals at 1.84, bear in mind that five of the last six meetings between the teams in all competitions have featured fewer than three goals. Only one team scored in five of those games, and the other was a 0-0 draw in the League Cup final last season. You can back No in the Both Teams To Score market at 2.60.