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It is a mouth-watering top-four clash with Champions League implications at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, but Manchester City’s visit to Chelsea also holds some professional pride for the two-time titleholders.
Manchester City (20-3-7) must win this match to mathematically extend the title race for their next contest, which is at home to champions-elect Liverpool on July 2. Dropping points would create an insurmountable deficit with seven matches remaining as Pep Guardiola’s side are 23 points adrift and also result in his players having to perform the customary guard of honour prematch for the newly crowned champions.
The Cityzens have shown classy form since Project Restart, sweeping away Arsenal and Burnley with eight combined goals and no shots on target conceded. They put the Clarets to the sword by a 5-0 count Monday as Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden each recorded braces to bracket a goal from David Silva.
The lopsided victory, though, came at a heavy cost as Sergio Aguero suffered an injury late in the first half on a play that eventually led to Mahrez converting from the spot after a VAR review. The Argentina international suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery that is expected to sideline him the rest of the league season.
“Everything went well and I will soon start with the recovery,” the striker tweeted from his official account. “Thank you so much to Dr. Cugat and his team and everyone for so much support.”
There is hope Aguero, who has 23 goals in 32 matches across all competitions for City this term, could return for the resumption of the Champions League in early August.
Aguero’s absence leaves Gabriel Jesus as City’s only true striker but weep not for Guardiola as he has multiple sources of goal-scoring at his disposal – and that does not fully factor young Foden, who has hit the ground running with three goals in the two wins.
The City boss hinted Ilkay Gundogan could enter the rotation in a withdrawn forward position, and Leroy Sane – who saw his first minutes since rupturing his ACL in the Community Shield in August – could see an increase in playing time with Aguero’s absence.
“We don’t have any doubts about Gabriel,” Guardiola said at his Wednesday press conference.
“Only doubt we have is that not one single player with the preparation we had can play every game.
No one player can play 90 minutes every three days. Raheem (Sterling) can play in this position, even Gundogan can. We have different options. Not a striker, but we have other options.”
Chelsea (15-6-9) are looking to shore up their hold on fourth place in the table. The Pensioners are also one of many Premier League teams waiting on City’s appeal of their UEFA ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – if it is upheld, Chelsea’s position is strengthened further as it would qualify directly for group play and the fifth-place team would then have to navigate the qualifying rounds of Europe’s top club tournament for 2020-21.
The Blues are currently two points better than Manchester United and Wolverhampton for fourth, and Tottenham Hotspur are another four points back.
Frank Lampard’s side rallied for a 2-1 victory at Aston Villa on Sunday as goals by Christian Pulisic and Oliver Giroud two minutes apart in the second half swung the match. The 33-year-old Giroud, getting just his sixth league start of the term, rewarded his manager’s faith with an instinctive veteran forward’s goal – settle, turn, and strike – on 62 minutes for the match-winner.
“We showed great character and quality in the second half to win the game so I’m pleased,” Lampard said post-match. We had to make sure we kept moving the ball as quickly as we could, kept attacking down the sides like we did and not get bored of doing good things that were going to give Villa problems.
“We did that and the more we did, the more you get the feeling that hopefully you’ll get the breakthrough. The players had to believe and they did. We deserved to win the game because we had so much of the ball. If we could be more clinical, it makes it an easier afternoon.”
Lampard also welcomed back Ruben Loftus-Cheek into the fold, with the England international getting his first match action since May 2019 after suffering a ruptured Achilles in a friendly match in the United States. The winger played 55 minutes before giving way to Pulisic, whose stab of Azpilicueta’s cross leveled the match on the hour.
City were 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture in November as Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne scored first-half goals after Mahrez’s former Leicester City teammate N’Golo Kante staked the Pensioners to a lead. The Cityzens are 5-1-1 in their last seven matchups with Chelsea in all competitions, but the Blues have taken points in eight of the last 10 overall meetings (6-2-2) in London.