LONDON: Manchester City will attempt to exploit the internal turmoil at Chelsea and land an early blow in this season’s Premier League title race when the sides face off on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Chelsea’s week has been dominated by the fall-out from manager Jose Mourinho’s criticism of first-team doctor Eva Carneiro and physiotherapist Jon Fearn for running onto the pitch to treat Eden Hazard when the team were down to 10 men in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City.
Widely criticised over the incident, Mourinho confirmed on Friday that the pair have been demoted—temporarily, according to him—and will not be on the bench at the Etihad Stadium.
The Swansea game already represented an underwhelming start to Chelsea’s title defence after five games without victory in pre-season, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’s dismissal ruling him out of Sunday’s contest.
City, in contrast, opened with an impressive 3-0 win at West Bromwich Albion that sent Manuel Pellegrini’s side to the top of the standings after the first round of fixtures.
Raheem Sterling is settling in after his £49 million ($76.7 million, 68.9 million euros) switch from Liverpool, Sergio Aguero is nearing full fitness following his post-Copa America break and Yaya Toure suggested he was ready to put last season’s troubles behind him with a goal and an assist at The Hawthorns.
Sunday’s game, meanwhile, will be the first at the Etihad since the opening of a new 6,000-seat tier on the South Stand and the addition of 1,500 extra pitch-side seats, taking the capacity to 55,097—another sign of the club’s growing ambition.
Victory would put City five points above Chelsea and although it is early days, Pellegrini knows that Sunday’s encounter represents an opportunity to disrupt the stride of a title rival.
“We are not thinking about the title in the second game, but we are thinking about trying to win our points at home, especially as we are playing against the champions and one of the teams that has a lot of chances to win the title,” he said.
“It is the same as Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham — all the big teams.”
Aguero in contention
Aguero came off the bench against West Brom, but it may be too soon for last season’s top scorer to start, which would mean Wilfried Bony continuing to lead the line.
For Chelsea, Asmir Begovic will make his competitive full debut, having come on against Swansea following Courtois’s second-half dismissal for felling Bafetimbi Gomis.
Oscar is a doubt with a knock sustained in training, but Diego Costa is in line to play, having allayed fears about the condition of his hamstrings by completing 90 minutes against Swansea.
Even by Mourinho’s stormy standards, it has been a challenging week, as medical professionals from within the game have queued up to criticise him over his perplexing treatment of Carneiro and Fearn.
He threatened to walk out of a briefing with newspaper journalists on Friday when pressed on the matter, but he has dismissed suggestions the furore will have any effect on the outcome of the showdown with City.
“If somebody thinks that a disagreement between two members of the medical staff and the manager can affect the week, it is somebody that doesn’t have a clue about what football is and about preparation for matches,” Mourinho said. “It is obviously not (a problem).
“The season is very, very long. We are speaking about 38 matches—38 matches is an eternity, a marathon that started last weekend and ends in around 10 months.
“I cannot say it (the match) is crucial, I cannot say it is decisive, I cannot say it is very, very, very important.
“But, two title contenders, three points, so if you can get three and your opponent zero, it is important.
“I am not going to say the game is not important, but for sure I don’t say the game decides anything for the winner or the loser.”