Manchester City's impenetrable home form will force many into believing Chelsea have little chance of leaving the Etihad with three points.
Jose Mourinho's men face a side that are yet to drop a point in front of their own fans this season, per WhoScored.com. Despite winning each of their 11 home games, Manuel Pellegrini's side remain two points behind Arsenal, while Chelsea lag by five.
Both teams know victory in Feb. 3's crunch fixture will massively boost their Premier League title chances. Can City make it 12 out of 12 at home? Will Chelsea join them on 53 points? Let's take a look at the key battles that will decide exactly that.
Key Battles That Will Decide Manchester City vs. Chelsea
Size Matters in Midfield
City's midfield is very rarely overrun. Pellegrini possesses two complete midfielders in the shape of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, both of whom will be deployed to stifle the output of their opposition during the Chelsea game.
These are well-rounded, athletic midfielders who are just as likely to make a tackle as they are to burst forward and score. Their mobility allows City to shift through the gears in an instant, something Mourinho must be aware of.
The Portuguese manager is likely to deploy Ramires alongside either David Luiz, Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel or Nemanja Matic. While Ramires can be considered a box-to-box midfielder, he has a tendency to leave Chelsea exposed when bombing forward.
Size is certainly preferable for the visitors. Luiz has performed admirably in the centre this season, but Matic's 6'4" frame would give City more to think about. His presence could nullify Toure's imposing stature, as he matches up physically alongside the Ivorian.
It wouldn't be beyond Mourinho to play a conservative game away from home—we saw that with his use of a false nine against Manchester United—so utilising his newly-acquired Serbian player as a shadow for Toure's every move could provide Chelsea with greater room in the middle.
Chelsea's Ability to Stop City's Attacking Full-Backs
Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, the two full-backs who are most likely to start for Chelsea, are yet to provide an assist this season—per WhoScored.com. The same can be said about Ashley Cole, who may be called upon by Mourinho.
Chelsea are not an all-guns-blazing team. They are not the type to send their full-backs scampering up the pitch against elite opposition, but they are likely to play a defensive game at the Etihad.
Mourinho will invite pressure onto Ivanovic and Azpilicueta if they are told to stay put. Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov will provide City's width, allowing the rest of the team to focus their efforts in the centre.
This trio have nine assists between them this campaign. If Mourinho is going to stop them, both of his wingers must constantly track back.
Eden Hazard and Willian, both of whom have showed greater determination to fulfill their defensive duties this year, will also need to quickly move up the pitch to ensure Chelsea don't drop too deep. While an exhausting task, halting City's progress down the wings is a key way of stopping the strikers from receiving pinpoint service in the middle.
Can Alvaro Negredo be Halted at Home?
Alvaro Negredo has scored 12 goals in nine starts and five substitute appearances across the Premier League and Champions League this season, recorded by WhoScored.com. He is prolific at the Etihad, bordering on the unstoppable when fully fit.
The Spaniard is likely to make his first start upon returning from a niggling injury, per Sky Sports. While he won't be partnered by Sergio Aguero—who misses the game with a hamstring problem, per Andy Hampson of The Independent—Edin Dzeko is more than capable of helping the former Sevilla man hit the back of the net.
John Terry and Gary Cahill will have their hands full, but the duo possess enough composure to make Negredo's life difficult. The difference will come down to movement. If Negredo and Dzeko get to their free-flowing best, Terry's aging legs will struggle to follow each twist and turn.
The Chelsea defence, no matter how well they perform, simply cannot afford to switch off.
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