There’s a fat lady in London SW 6 preparing to break into song tonight.
If the obese vocalist is moved to belt out a chorus in the wake of a Chelsea win, it’ll mean Jose Mourinho’s team will have to hit some seriously bum notes to allow Manchester City back into title contention.
In the lyrics of another football-loving singer, Elton John, ‘Saturday night’s alright for fighting…’ and, metaphorically speaking, that’s precisely what Manuel Pellegrini’s men must do.
Of course, the one man who would take the lyrics literally will be missing from Mourinho’s line-up. Diego Costa is banned after his appeal against a charge of violent conduct charge was dismissed by the FA.
A player even more influential than bad boy and top scorer Dirty Diego, could also be absent from the Chelsea team, with Cesc Fabregas nursing a delicate hamstring.
It’s more than City could have wished for prior to the Londoners’ eventful League Cup semi final clash with Liverpool, the instigator and executioner of so many of Chelsea’s goal this season, being out of this titanic top of the table tussle.
City could counter that they too will be without key players. Yaya Toure and new striker Wilfried Bony are still with the Ivory Coast in the incredibly drab African Cup of Nations Tournament, and doubts persist over Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala.
The irony with Mangala is that he made a sensational debut in the reverse fixture, looking like a world-beater in the 1-1 draw at the Etihad. His form has fluctuated in the intervening period, and it’s by no means certain he’d get the nod ahead of Martin Demichelis, if passed fit.
It’s a given that Vincent Kompany will start at the centre of the City defence, but the City skipper is under serious scrutiny after some sub-standard performances.
The well worn phrase that ‘form is temporary and class is permanent’ is very true, but there’s never been a better time to recapture the form that has made City’s Captain Fantastic one of the world’s outstanding defenders.
In contrast, Kompany’s opposite number at Chelsea, John Terry, is having something of a renaissance period.
Widely reviled for his off-the-field activities, including racial slurs and infidelities, the thoroughly dislikeable ‘JT’ is a vital element in a resolute Chelsea team who, until recent tonkings by Tottenham and Bradford City, were very tight at the back – just how Terry likes it.
Chelsea have the best home defensive record in the league, with only three goals going past the impressive Courtois, and none conceded in eight out of 10 fixtures.
The January jitters has seen City concede eight goals in five games and not a clean sheet in sight. It’s coincided with a mini-drought at the other end of the field, a situation Sergio Aguero will be desperate to correct today.
City are the only team to score in every Premier League away game this season, with an average of 2.27 per match – a league high. A score line of Chelsea 0 Manchester City 2.27 would be very well received!
Another factor in City’s favour is they remain unbeaten away from the Etihad in all competitions since late October, winning five and drawing two, scoring 16 and conceding five.
So, it’s the best home defence against the finest away attack at 17.30 hrs today – what’s going to give?
It promises to be an emotional time for Frank Lampard as he does what he probably thought would never happen in a million years – play at Stamford Bridge against his beloved Chelsea.
Pellegrini will probably hold Super Frank in reserve, just as he did when the ex-England veteran came on to score the equaliser, ensuring City and Chelsea shared the spoils back in September.
Ever the consummate professional, City will be hoping the return to ‘The Bridge’ won’t be too much for Frank, after all, he is only human. Will he be greeted with respect and admiration or treated with disdain and contempt?
Whatever the outcome and the environment, ‘Lamps’ will be under the spotlight.
If he adds to his tally of seven goals in 22 appearances and emerges on the winning side, Frank will be as popular in seven months at City as he ever was in 13 years with Chelsea.
Key to tonight’s outcome will be Chelsea’s ability to contain the man who makes Manchester City tick – David Silva. Both Middlesbrough and Arsenal have sought to smother the life out of City’s midfield magician in recent games and, in Nemanja Matic, Mourinho has one of the best defensive midfielders in the league.
At this stage of the campaign City fans could be forgiven for thinking ‘if only’ – if only Pellegrini had gone shopping in different parts of Portugal – Lisbon rather than Porto – and bought the Serbian from Benfica rather than Fernando.
If City are to win – and they are more than capable of doing so – they need other players to step up and ease the burden placed upon Merlin.
If Nasri doesn’t make it will Pellegrini consider starting with Lampard?
City crave creativity and are far too reliant on Silva, but if Sergio has a sizzler he could run rings around Terry and Cahill. If Branislav Ivanovic is missing it will further weaken the pretenders to City’s crown.
Whoever lines up in various shades of blue it promises to be an intense affair. To succeed City must play at a tempo that has been woefully absent in 2015.
At times Pellegrini’s men have looked lethargic, ‘leggy’, even, dare it be said, lazy – not tracking back, failing to press opponents and leaving yawning gaps of space which the opposition have exploited.
In times gone by, the days of ‘Typical City’ when the men from Maine Road were adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at any given moment, it was said that fans always loved a ‘tryer’ – a player who, though lacking in ability, gave it his all.
As Champions of England, there is an abundance of ability in the ranks of Manchester City circa 2015. If City can engineer a compatible work ethic tonight – one that matches the intent and gusto of the terrace chant ‘We’ll Fight ‘Till the End’ – that fat ‘cockney’ songbird could be choking on her lyrics!
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu