If Manchester City want to keep their increasingly small title hopes from being wiped out completely, they must find a way to beat Chelsea. It's a marquee matchup between two of the Premier League's top three clubs, but they are both looking up at Manchester United.
City have watched United pull away in recent weeks. A draw with Liverpool followed by a surprising loss to Southampton eliminated any remaining margin for error last season's champions had. Now they need a strong run of play combined with a Red Devils collapse.
The Blues would love to be focused on the title chase, but they should be more concerned with holding their top-four position. Tottenham and Arsenal are both within striking distance of Chelsea with 12 matches left in the season.
A scoreless draw ensued the last time these clubs faced off in November. Sunday's encounter should provide a few more fireworks. Here's a look at the key information for the match, followed by some players to watch from both sides.
Where: Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England
When: Sunday, Feb. 24 at 8:30 a.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes
Live Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go
Manchester City Player to Watch: Sergio Aguero
Aguero found the net twice last weekend to help push City past Leeds United in the FA Cup. The Argentina international has now scored fives goals in his last six starts and is second on the team in league tallies with nine.
He's one piece of the club's three-headed attacking group, which also features Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez, but presents the highest upside of the trio. His combination of power and finishing ability make him a defender's nightmare when in form.
Aguero must put pressure on a Chelsea back line that has allowed just one goal over the past three matches. That includes back-to-back clean sheets against Sparta Prague in the Europa League and Brentford in the FA Cup.
The 24-year-old striker has been playing extremely well as of late and should draw another start. When he's playing with confidence, it's a joy for City fans to watch.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Juan Mata
The Chelsea attack goes through Mata. Frank Lampard has elevated his level of play in recent months, Demba Ba was brought in to provide some extra firepower up front and Eden Hazard is enjoying a solid first season with the club. However, Mata leads the way.
In league play, he's scored 10 goals, which is second on the team behind Lampard. He also leads the Blues with 12 assists. His ability to create scoring chances not only for himself, but also for his teammates is a main reason the club hasn't fallen further in the table.
Chelsea needs Mata to dominate down the stretch if they are going to maintain a top-four spot. He's the one player who can control play in the midfield, provide pinpoint passes for Ba or Fernando Torres and finish with skill.
It's been a disappointing run for the Blues, especially when you consider their strong start. Mata can't allow it to get any worse down the stretch.
Matchup to Watch: Joe Hart vs. Petr Cech
Hart and Cech both kept clean sheets in the last meeting between the clubs. Cech was the busier goalkeeper, making five stops to keep City at bay. Their strong play is no surprise, of course. They are two of the most reliable keepers in the Premier League.
Although Hart is still prone to the occasional mental lapse, which City fans witnessed against Southampton, his athleticism allows him to make plenty of highlight-reel saves. For a 25-year-old keeper, City will gladly take that trade off.
Cech was a key contributor during Chelsea's Champions League run last season and it's hard to pin any of their struggles on him. He hasn't been in peak form, but he's been good enough to keep the club in matches they just weren't able to pull out.
Manchester City 1, Chelsea 1
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