It’s rare for a match in gameweek 2 in any league to be so decisive, but Manchester City’s welcome of Chelsea on Sunday could be just that. The two title rivals clash at the Etihad Stadium this weekend in an encounter that has the potential to give the Citizens a real head start in the title race, despite only just reaching the midway point in August.
Off field drama has plagued the build up to the fixture, but come 4pm on Sunday; the focus will be on the pitch as these two Premier League giants do battle. With that, WhoScored has picked out four key battles to watch out for ahead of the clash of the titans.
Sergio Aguero vs Asmir Begovic
After starting the 3-0 win over West Brom on the bench, Sergio Aguero is expected to come into the starting XI in place of Wilfried Bony, despite the latter’s assist on Monday night. However, when a player of Aguero’s ilk is available for selection, it’s nigh-on impossible to not pick him. The Argentine may only have 2 goals to his name in 7 league meetings with the Blues, but Aguero is a striker who boasts the ability to create a goalscoring opportunity for himself or others at the drop of a hat.
He is presented with the chance to add to his record against the Blues on Sunday with Asmir Begovic set to make his full debut for the west London side. Thibaut Courtois is suspended having received his marching orders in Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Swansea last weekend and his absence can be considered a blow to the Blues. However, Begovic impressed when introduced in the second half, gaining a WhoScored rating of 7.40; only Oscar (7.42) scored better than the Bosnian of Chelsea players in the stalemate.
Despite featuring for just 37 minutes, Begovic (4) made more saves than Courtois (3) and Lukasz Fabianksi (2) as the shotstopper ensured Chelsea secured a positive result, despite playing much of the second half with 10 men. On his day, Begovic is one of the league’s best goalkeepers, but Aguero will fancy his chances of notching his first goal of the season against the stand in 28-year-old than he would have done Courtois, having netted 3 goals in 4 appearances when facing the Bosnian.
Yaya Toure vs Nemanja Matic
Yaya Toure looked back to his best when City travelled to West Brom on Monday night, unintentionally providing the assist for David Silva’s opener, before getting on the scoresheet midway through the first half. After a season that saw him draw criticism amidst reports he was past his peak, the Ivorian powerhouse responded in impressive fashion, gaining a WhoScored rating of 8.08.
It’s set to be a clash of epic proportions in the midfield at the Etihad, with Nemanja Matic the man likely to be tasked with limiting Toure’s influence. Despite Chelsea’s struggles last Saturday, Matic was excellent in breaking up play in the middle of the park, making 4 tackles and 3 interceptions, all the while maintaining the second best pass success rate (88.2%) of Chelsea starters in the draw.
Once Toure gains a head of steam when he ventures on one of his lung-busting runs from deep, he is the human equivalent of a runaway freight train, carving opposition sides apart at a whim. In Matic, though, Chelsea have themselves the ultimate buffer, capable of halting any player in their tracks. The Serb must keep his wits about him in order to stop his Ivorian counterpart on Sunday, who is expected to start despite injury on Monday night.
Raheem Sterling vs Branislav Ivanovic
Raheem Sterling’s big money move to City this summer caused uproar up and down the country, with a majority dubbing the winger a money grabber following his move to the two-time Premier League champions. Plenty of football fans questioned Sterling’s motives and pondered whether he would start regularly, though for the funds spent to secure his services; the England international is expected to be a first team mainstay under Manuel Pellegrini.
Sterling’s strongest asset is his dribbling ability and it’s here where City can really hurt Chelsea. Branislav Ivanovic struggled to contain Jefferson Montero last weekend, the Ecuador international completing more successful dribbles (6) than any other player at Stamford Bridge. If City can get Sterling one on one with Ivanovic at the Etihad Stadium, the Serb could be in for another tiring 90 minutes.
The winger may have underwhelmed on his league debut for City, but his ability when in possession should help the Citizens to a positive result on Sunday. With Ivanovic breaking forward at any given opportunity, the space he leaves behind is there to be exploited, with Sterling perhaps City’s best route to goal at the weekend.
Eliaquim Mangala vs Diego Costa
Young Eliaquim Mangala’s Premier League debut came in the corresponding fixture last season - quite the baptism of fire for the inexperienced centre-back. However, Mangala handled his defensive responsibilities with aplomb on the day, gaining a WhoScored rating of 7.67. Inconsistency may have badgered the 24-year-old in his debut campaign in England’s top tier, but he has the potential to eradicate this weakness of his game in time.
Expected to come up against the aggressive Diego Costa, Sunday represents a chance for Mangala to build on his display at the Hawthorns last time out. Costa, like much of the Chelsea offensive, disappointed against Swansea and the Spain international, who finished last season with 20 league goals to his name, must kick start his campaign sooner rather than later. Doing so against City would be the ideal timing as far as Chelsea are concerned.
The Spaniard needs to be prolific in front of goal, though, if he is to net for the first time this season. Only Chelsea (9) and Southampton (13) conceded fewer goals at home than City (14) last season, with their resilient defence at the Etihad Stadium helping them to secure a second place finish. The battle between Mangala and Costa is expected to be a physical one, with the pairing requiring strong showings for different reasons when City and Chelsea meet.
Who do you think will come out on top between Manchester City and Chelsea this weekend? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below