Following the controversial dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez takes charge of his first game as interim Chelsea manager Sunday, and it couldn’t come against much tougher opposition.
Manchester City will be newly invigorated after assuring their exit from the Champions League during midweek and travel to Stamford Bridge with a new domestic focus in mind.
Both sides have built a reputation for heavy transfer spending in recent years and have amassed two rosters absolutely packed to the rafters with talent as a result.
That being said, it’s the small things that count, and both sides will be counting on performances from some vital talismans if they’re to emerge from west London with at least a point in hand.
Playing out of his natural position, this season has shown the versatile qualities of Branislav Ivanovic perhaps more than any other.
The Serbian international is more accustomed to playing in the centre of defence, but has been preferred at right-back for the majority of this season and will be tested in a big way when coming up against Sergio Aguero.
While it may have been merely a consolation, City’s striking asset netted his side’s goal against Real Madrid, adding to his record of five goals in his last four matches.
Ivanovic has been in superb form this season and as well as providing a staunch presence in the Blues’ back line, the Serbian international has been a constant presence in attacker, netting three Premier League goals this season.
In terms of metaphors, the physical attributes of the two athletes are akin to an unstoppable force (Aguero) meeting an immovable object (Ivanovic) when stern Serbian meets acrobatic Argentine this Sunday.
With John Terry out of contention through injury, David Luiz is likely to once again take up duties in the centre of Chelsea’s defence alongside Gary Cahill.
The Brazilian has drawn some criticism for his defensive approach at times, being slightly too concentrated on matters going forward rather than on that which should be a defender’s prerogative—defending.
However, winning the ball back from the opposition will have to be Luiz’s primary objective this weekend, and one of the main men against whom he’ll be attempting to accomplish that goal is Carlos Tevez.
Tevez appears to have firmly swept the controversy from 14 months ago under the rug and is once again loved by what would seem to be a large majority of the Etihad Stadium’s supporters.
With six goals and seven assists in the league this season, it’s fair to say that the forward’s family moving back to England has had a very positive impact on his game (via Telegraph).
Luiz is vulnerable as a defender at times but has also displayed the potential for greatness at times, laying the foundations for an epic South American clash.
Chelsea’s star summer signing has taken little time in adjusting to life in the Premier League and has shown in these first few months in England just why the Blues paid £32 million for his signature in the first place.
In this weekend’s instalment of the Super Sunday clash, it’s likely to be Gareth Barry who’s given the duty of disabling Hazard’s skill set.
Just as he was with Lille, Hazard has shown himself to be a very versatile asset in Chelsea colours and has most frequently taken up a spot behind the main striker—an area that Barry will be expected to patrol.
Ages 31 and 21 years old, respectively, Barry and Hazard are a decade apart in age and therefore hold two very different advantages in their game, making for an intriguing encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Now in his second season at Chelsea, Juan Mata would appear to have settled into his Premier League surroundings with aplomb and is now yielding greater results for the west London outfit than ever before.
The Spaniard has seven goals and 11 assists across all competitions and has started to make the more regular surges into the Spanish national team that many feel he deserves.
That being said, possible lining up against Mata this weekend is another of those greatly established on both the club and international stage, as Maicon goes about his settling in period.
The former Internazionale star has begun to see more consistent minutes for Manchester City, and while this may be his debut season in the English top flight, the full-back has looked assured going about his business.
Mata has been allowed free reign by a number of right-backs this season who are simply too weak to keep up with his quality, but Maicon should provide and altogether more difficult task.
It’s also worth mentioning that Mata should be kept on his toes defensively and will need whomever lines up at left-back for Chelsea to help restrain a rampaging Maicon.
Playing in similar positions but going about their business in two very different ways, the battle regarding who turns up to the races between John Obi Mikel and Yaya Toure could potentially decide this fixture.
As far as influence goes, Chelsea’s middleman doesn’t quite have the same attacking presence as his Manchester City counterpart, but is more focused on the defensive side of things and limiting the opposition’s chances.
The pair are likely to butt heads on more than one occasion when the action gets under way and would appear to be a question of whether City’s Ivorian playmaker can overwhelm Mikel or if the Nigerian anchorman can contain Toure’s bullish tendencies.
However, whether that be true or not, it’s highly unlikely to be a combination that yields results as swiftly as four days into the manager’s appointment.
It’s no secret that Torres has experienced a massive dip in attacking form since moving to west London in January 2011.
The hopes of improving that record don’t look too much more hopeful when one considers the figure lining up opposite Torres this weekend is none other than Vincent Kompany, the 2011-12 Premier League Player of the Season.
Manchester City’s captain has been key in the club’s ascension over the last two years or so and, depending on which version of Torres plays at Stamford Bridge, could have an easy day at the office.
Many a neutral would probably prefer to see Torres in some of his finer form, making for a very competitive to and fro, although it’s just as likely Chelsea’s target man goes largely unnoticed as he has done on a semi-frequent basis with the Blues.
If Torres does indeed get the nod this Sunday, he’s likely to lead the Chelsea line alone and will need to be at his best if he’s to stand up to the current league champions—a faceoff that Kompany will undoubtedly relish.