Manchester City vs. Chelsea Is a Must-Win Game for Both Teams
Rafael Benitez never even had a chance to get his feet under the table at Stamford Bridge before the fans turned on him. Ironically, his first game in charge was against Manchester City in November and is best remembered for Chelsea's own fans barracking their own manager throughout the game.
In recent weeks Roberto Mancini has become the favourite to be the next EPL manager to lose his job, with Jose Mourinho the easy favourite to replace him.
Manchester United stand on the verge of claiming their 20th English League title after finishing second last term. With that in mind, the pressure has shifted for Mancini to produce results and improve morale after losing hold of the trophy they won last season.
This season's points average of 2.03 per game falls in line with the Italian's overall average of 2.04 per game since he took over in late 2009. It also makes last year's 2.34 average per game look like the entire team played above themselves.
One would have to question if last season's win was an anomaly when compared to normal form.
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Roberto Mancini, the self-proclaimed "best manager in England," knows that a good finish to the season holds the key to his employment next season. He will do everything in his power to make his team play like they have 12 cup-finals left before they can sign off in May.
They head into the Chelsea clash as 10-11 favourites and a massive 12 points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's team with just 12 games to go. Add in the fact that Robin van Persie and Co. visit the happy hunting ground of Loftus Road and Queens Park Rangers just 24 hours before City face the Blues, and it is conceivable that Mancini's team will be 15 points behind before they even tip off.
City's season now hinges upon the FA Cup and the perception they have improved upon last term. They currently hold onto second on 53 points, four ahead of Chelsea, and have a potential 36 points left to play for.
They won the league on goal-difference last term after finishing on joint 89 points with Manchester United, and looking at their remaining 12 fixtures they will do well to make an 80 point total.
That leaves Mancini with the task of building his team up for a morale-boosting cup run while winning league matches in the kind of manner they have not enjoyed since the last campaign.
That all starts this weekend with the visit of Chelsea.
City, quite simply, cannot afford to lose.
Football, like any sport, is all about momentum. At the moment, that momentum is with neither City nor Chelsea. It is with Andre Villas-Boas and Tottenham Hotspur who have only lost twice from their last 20 fixtures.
Spurs are just one point behind Chelsea and travel to West Ham this weekend. Should the Pensioners best the Citizens and should Spurs win, all three teams would be separated by just two points with 11 games remaining.
City need to win and they need to win well. Victory over Chelsea will all but guarantee second place and will set them up perfectly to face Barnsley on Mar. 9 in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
For their part, Chelsea are a team as consistently inconsistent as one could get this term and yet they hold onto third place in the Premier League with a dead man's grip.
Under the previous manager, Roberto Di Matteo, their record in all competitions this season read as: W-9 D-5 L-6.
Under Rafael Benitez that record reads as: W-13 D-6 L-5.
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It shows a minor improvement under the 52-year-old Spaniard, but it cannot mask the huge frailties within the ageing side amidst growing rumours of yet another dressing room split.
The Blues started off the season on fire before dire form in the Champions League led to them becoming the first-ever defending champions to go out the following season in the group stage. The ignominy of their group stage elimination is shared with Manchester City who also exited UEFA's premier trophy in perhaps worse fashion.
City, the richest club in world football, went out of the competition without a single win from their six games.
Chelsea head to the Etihad on Sunday in the full knowledge that they hold their destiny in their own hands. When faced with similar situations in the Champions League last year, they were able to decide their own future and eventually win the competition against all odds.
This year, however, things are completely different. The defensive group that was once so hard to breach has conceded 28 goals in 26 matches and looks decidedly shaky when attacked down the right and through the middle.
The long-term absence of John Terry has wreaked havoc of defensive fluidity and without the ex-England captain they look rudderless across the back four. Add in a lack of pace in centre-midfield and Chelsea are extremely prone to swift counters and set-pieces alike.
Like City, Chelsea will also be looking at this game with a view to building momentum for an end-of-season push.
With Tottenham Hotspur still to face both teams, neither will be looking to lose come Sunday.
Who will Win?
On paper these fixtures are very similar so getting one up on the nearest opposition come Sunday is vital.
City cannot afford to lose any more games. If they do it is more than likely that Roberto Mancini will be replaced in the summer.
Rafael Benitez is already a man walking the green mile.
The interim manager was not expected to last past this summer. But a run of good results that could contain a cup final and finish in second place might just be enough to satisfy Roman Abramovich for another couple of months.
Quite simply, this is a game that neither manager can afford to lose if they want to retain their position in the dugout.
Their jobs are on the line, second place is on the line and most importantly, pride is on the line.
Statistics provided by www.Soccerbase.com and www.PremierLeague.com
You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon
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