Chelsea v Manchester City: Lampard to fight fire with fire
Two of the Premier League's most exciting teams will lock horns on Thursday night, and Kevin Hatchard expects them to produce a thrilling encounter.
Chelsea v Manchester City Thursday 25 June, 20:15 Live on BT Sport 1
Exciting times for Lampard, but tough work ahead
The Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea has always been one of boom and bust, cycles that feature dizzying highs and the kind of lows that invariably cost managers their jobs in a high-pressure environment. The temptation is to think that the Blues' money was always used to snare ready-made talents, mercenaries with a track record, but young talent has often featured strongly in their spending sprees down the years.
That emphasis on developing youth has never been stronger, and with club legend Frank Lampard at the helm and the impressive Jody Morris alongside him, there is a rare willingness to provide a pathway from the youth team to the first team. Christian Pulisic is settling down in his first season since moving from Borusia Dortmund (he scored the leveller in the recent win at Aston Villa), and he'll soon be joined by Bundesliga alumnus Timo Werner. With Bayer Leverkusen superstar Kai Havertz strongly linked with a switch to Stamford Bridge, it's clear that Chelsea see the Bundesliga as an excellent finishing school.
This accent on youth development comes with frustrations attached, and Lampard has often complained of his team's failure to be ruthless and clinical. In Sunday's win at Villa Park, Chelsea were ahead on most metrics, but actually lost the xG battle according to Infogol. They gave up some big chances, and didn't defend at all well for Villa's opener.
With 40 goals conceded, Chelsea have the worst defensive record in the top six, and they have only conceded one goal fewer than an Arsenal team that is often accused of being lamentably soft. They have only kept two clean sheets in their last 11 PL games, and Bayern Munich brutally exposed their flaws in the Champions League, sweeping to a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
Jorginho could return to the midfield after serving a suspension, Fikayo Tomori is sidelined, but Callum Hudson-Odoi could play some part.
City have sparkled, but too late
After Liverpool huffed and puffed their way through a drab goalless draw at Mersey rivals Everton on Sunday, Manchester City produced a footballing dismemberment, as they destroyed Burnley 5-0 with surgical precision. Pep Guardiola's swashbuckling side scored from five of their seven shots on target, and for the second match running, they didn't allow their opponents a single effort on target. They also swept aside a feeble Arsenal 3-0.
However, the uncomfortable truth that hangs over this part of the season for City is that one of their primary goals is surely out of reach. Only a mind-boggling collapse from Liverpool would allow City back into the title race, so the focus is on reaching the peak of their powers for the Champions League tests to come. This trip to Stamford Bridge offers the chance to show that defeats at Liverpool, Wolves, Tottenham and Manchester United are things of the past, pre-lockdown curiosities that are no longer relevant.
Sergio Aguero is out with a knee injury, while young defender Eric Garcia is also unavailable. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Aymeric Laporte and Kyle Walker could also return to the starting XI.
City are rightful favourites, but does an odds-on price appeal?
Given City's swaggering displays since the lockdown, and the fact they are 12 points ahead of Chelsea in the standings, I can understand why Guardiola's defending champions are favourites to win here. City won the reverse fixture 2-1, and have won their last three meetings with the West Londoners.
However, the price of 1.87 doesn't excite me. By their lofty standards, City have lost a lot of away games against top-six sides this season, and this is arguably their first true test since the restart. I think City may well edge an exciting game, but I'll look elsewhere for my primary wager.
Goals on the menu at the Bridge
Chelsea play an exciting brand of attacking football, and have scored at least twice in six of their last nine Premier League games. However, there is a fragility about them, and the fact they lost the Expected Goals battle at relegation-threatened Villa underlines the fact they give away too many good scoring chances.
City have rattled in ten more goals than runaway leaders Liverpool, but against top-six sides they have found clean sheets hard to come by. In eight games against the current top six, City have managed just one shut-out.
I'll double up Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score here at 1.89.
Olivier to provide another twist?
With Sergio Aguero sidelined, Gabriel Jesus is likely to spearhead the City attack, and he is 11/10 to score at any time on the Sportsbook. While the Brazilian has ten league goals this term, he has only scored in one of his last eight top-flight games. Raheem Sterling finally scored his first goal of 2020 against Arsenal, and he is priced at 13/8.
Perhaps there is better value on the Chelsea side of things here. Olivier Giroud seems to have finally won over Lampard, and the statuesque Frenchman has scored in his last two PL appearances, including the winner at Aston Villa. He is 21/10 to score in the 90 minutes.