Chelsea and Manchester City will go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon with the season’s first piece of silverware on the line.
Given the events of the last few weeks, it would be a huge surprise if Pep Guardiola’s side did not retain the trophy they captured with victory over Arsenal this time 12 months ago.
To say Maurizio Sarri is going through a torrid time at present would be an understatement of substantial proportions.
Monday night’s 2-0 defeat by Manchester United in the FA Cup was their third loss in their last four domestic outings, with Bournemouth’s 4-0 triumph and Manchester City’s 6-0 success among their worst ever Premier League results.
United were deserved winners last time out, with a section of the Stamford Bridge support openly turning on the former Napoli manager for the first time.
Looking at the situation today, it is easy to forget that the Blues actually enjoyed a good start to the campaign; the football has been stodgy and uninspiring for a while now, though, and Sarri’s tactical intransigence and public criticism of his players has not exactly helped his cause.
It is increasingly difficult to envisage the Italian coach occupying the Stamford Bridge dugout at the start of next term, although an underdog victory at Wembley on Sunday – you can get odds as long as 19/4 (Coral) on a Chelsea win – would buy him some much-needed breathing space.
Manchester City, however, are unlikely to be in a forgiving mood. Guardiola’s team went through their own wobble a few weeks ago but now look to be back to their best, with that aforementioned 6-0 trouncing of Chelsea among their best performances of the season so far.
The 3-2 midweek defeat of Schalke was a little more scratchy and showcased the sort of defensive vulnerabilities which can be exposed by opponents who demonstrate sufficient bravery, but City’s attacking prowess is such that they are capable of blowing sides away when they are in the mood.
The Premier League champions have recaptured their aggression and intensity too, while Sergio Aguero – 37/10 with Unibet to open the scoring this weekend – is in the best form he has been since Guardiola’s arrival in Manchester.
Hat-trick against Arsenal— bet365 (@bet365) February 20, 2019
Hat-trick against Chelsea
Opens the scoring against Schalke
Sergio Aguero has now scored seven goals in February. pic.twitter.com/L6MaLNK71x
Given that City have found the net 24 times in their last seven games in all competitions, it could be worth having a flutter on the holders again scoring more than 2.5 goals against Chelsea – that bet can be found at 9/4 with Betfair.
Perhaps the biggest hope for Chelsea is that this team will recapture the resilient age which was frequently on display during the Antonio Conte era.
Despite being second best in the opening half of the match, that is what happened when the teams met at Stamford Bridge back in September; the hosts dug in and rode their luck at times before the break, but they ultimately emerged victorious after showing tremendous character and mental strength in the second half.
Sarri admitted after the game that he had not intended for his side to enjoy such a small share of possession, but in the end a more pragmatic approach – albeit adopted by accident more than design – served Chelsea well.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that something similar could happen on Sunday, particularly if they are able to survive the opening 30 minutes without conceding.
That, however, will be a big ask given how frail Chelsea have looked in recent times, and Guardiola will surely instruct his players to go for the throat of their wounded adversaries from the first whistle and look to kill the game off as a contest as soon as possible.
City were already four goals to the good after 25 minutes of that 6-0 demolition at the Etihad and it could be worth backing them to hold an advantage inside the first quarter of an hour at Wembley, with Coral offering 4/1 on the favourites establishing an early lead.
Even if Chelsea survive the onslaught that will probably come their way in the opening exchanges, City’s quality will tell as the final wears on.
Guardiola’s charges are in fine fettle at present and should make relatively light work of opponents who are divided and in disarray. Back Manchester City to win both halves and lift the League Cup trophy for the second season in a row at a price of 14/5 with Betway.
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