Chelsea may still be hanging onto third spot in the Premier League, but their title chances have long since disappeared. If their opponents Manchester City fail to get a win when the two sides meet at the Etihad on Sunday, then the champions’ hopes will go the same way.
Manchester United’s win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday has extended their lead over their local rivals to 15 points and City know that any further slipups cannot be countenanced.
City were roundly criticized for their performance in losing 3-1 to Southampton in their last league outing, but midfielder Yaya Toure is determined to fight on until the end.
“The game against Southampton was quite bad and we were losing, but the fans continued to cheer. Their chanting was quite unbelievable,” he said, according to Manchester City’s official website.
“For those guys we would never stop and we will continue to fight. In this sport you never know what will happen in the future. I think 12 games is a long time and we will get a chance.”
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Chelsea’s attentions have already turned toward trying to ensure they achieve a qualification spot for the Champions League. The Blues currently sit a point ahead of Tottenham and two points above Arsenal, although the Gunners have played a game more.
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez expects the teams to be tightly packed all the way to the end of the season.
“You always want to finish as high as possible, that's the challenge,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “We will finish second if we can, the next game is a massive one and then we'll see where we are, but I still think at the end of the season we'll all be fighting each other.”
Chelsea scraped through to the last-16 of the Europa League on Thursday after a late goal from substitute Eden Hazard saw them defeat Sparta Prague. Hazard looks likely to return the starting lineup, along with Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, while Demba Ba and David Luiz could also start.
City are look set to make late decisions on the fitness of captain Vincent Kompany and midfielder Gareth Barry.
Manchester City (probable)
D: Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
M: Y. Toure, Garcia
Milner, Tevez, Silva
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole
M: Luiz, Lampard
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
Prediction: It promises to be a closely-fought encounter at the Etihad between two teams who have showed plenty of vulnerability in recent times. Manchester City produced their most impressive performance in recent weeks in beating Leeds 4-0 last week, while the potential return of Kompany would be a huge boost.
But Chelsea have been defensively solid of late and with Ba likely to lead the line, the Blues could well emerge with a point.
Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 8.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.