Who: Manchester City FC vs. Chelsea FC
What: English Premier League, Match Week 27
Where: Etihad Stadium, Greater Manchester, England
When: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 13:30 GMT/8:30 a.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Channel (USA), Sky Sports 1/HD, Sky Sports 3D (UK)
Worldwide Streams and : LiveSoccerTV.com
Radio: SiriusXM Siri 94 (Internet 94)
Referee: Andre Marriner
3-Way Odds: Manchester City -120, Chelsea +260, Draw +225
Total: Over 2½ -136, Under 2½ Even
Decimal Odds: Manchester City 1.83, Chelsea 3.60, Draw 3.25
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.73, Under 2½ 2.00
Fractional Odds: Manchester City 83/100, Chelsea 13/5, Draw 9/4
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 75/100, Under 2½ 1/1
Source: sportsbook.com (Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles)
It may be the marquee matchup of the weekend in the English Premier League and a theoretical "battle for second place" but it's hard to believe Manchester City and Chelsea will be buying into any of that hype for Sunday's match at the Etihad Stadium.
And while this game is a battle between the defending Premier League champions and the defending European champions, fans of both clubs are likely now drowning in a sea of sorrow, dwelling on what could have been after their visions of promising seasons evaporated like morning rain in the Mojave Desert.
With Manchester United now 12 points clear on top of the league table, easily running away with the title and even talking treble now, it's pretty obvious that red is the color in England's top flight this season—definitely not sky or royal blue.
So fans of City and Chelsea should best prepare themselves for at least three more months of stories on how their clubs are seeking that fabulous striker they'll never sign, and how their managers are sure to be replaced this summer unless they can win the FA Cup or the Europa League.
Such is life with clubs whose yearly expectations often exceed what, upon closer scrutiny, is really feasible in the rough-and-tumble world of European football.
But shades of blue aside, there is a football game to be played in Manchester this weekend, and, if Chelsea can find a way to win on a pitch where just one EPL visitor has claimed three points—United of course—since December of 2010, then the Blues will find themselves just one point in back of City (53-52) in the standings.
One thing these two teams can chirp about that United cannot is their defense. Historically solid in the back, City and goalkeeper Joe Hart have again allowed the least number of goals in the Premiership (24), while Chelsea and club legend Petr Čech are second (28).
And with so much stellar defense and some wonderful defenders in Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, John Terry and Ashley Cole holding it down, one would expect a similar match and scoreline (0-0) as when the two sides last met in November in West London.
But not so fast, Guinness breath.
Manchester City (15-8-3) finally burned the wart off its ass that was Mario Balotelli over the winter transfer market, but still has a killer striking troika in Edin Džeko (12 goals, EPL), Sergio Agüero (9) and Carlos Tévez (7) as well as the dangerous Yaya Touré (4) and David Silva (5 assists) in the midfield.
And with an average of almost two goals per match on home turf, the Sky Blues should find a way to score a goal or two against Chelsea whom they defeated in the FA Community Shield, 3-2 in early August.
But despite City's dominance at the Etihad, Chelsea (14-7-5) will certainly be up for this clash, and is now extremely healthy, has its two skillful Nigerians—John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses—back from the Africa Cup of Nations and has gone unbeaten in its last four games in all competitions (3-1-0), outscoring foes 10-2 along the way.
That one draw came on Thursday in the Europa League's Round of 32, when the Blues salvaged a late tie against Sparta Prague on a sublime Eden Hazard goal to advance (won 2-1 on aggregate) on in the tourney. They will now face Romanian powerhouse Steaua Bucharest (March 7 in Bucharest, March 14 in London) in the Round of 16.
Knowing he had a big date with City looming, Blues interim manager Rafael Benítez decided to rest veterans Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanović against Sparta, and whether or not it was tactical genius or just sheer luck on the rotund Spaniard's part, Chelsea did advance, and the two will be ready to go for Sunday's showdown.
Chelsea, which holds a slight 5-1-4 edge in the last 10 meetings in this series, is a respectable 7-3-3 on the road this season (25 goals for, 16 goals against) but will really have its work cut out for it in Northwest England. They will need solid performances from Čech, John Terry and Juan Mata to pull off the upset.
One big-name Chelsea player who may start out on the bench is beleaguered striker Fernando Torres who has again gone on one of his infamous goal droughts.
Now scoreless in his last 14 games, El Niño has again regressed to La Niña status and may be replaced by Demba Ba up top for this City match.
For the Blues, finding a way to silence City manager Roberto Mancini and United's "noisy neighbors" at home will be quite some undertaking, but if the advanced midfielders can effectively widen the flanks and stretch the Sky Blues' defense as they effectively did against Sparta, then anything is possible.
But when two dysfunctional clubs whose fans expect nothing short of perfection week-in and week-out from their teams' meetings, drama is a given.
And while both sides probably now refer to 2012 as "the good old days," all City and Chelsea have is the present, and what better way to deaden the pain of disappointment than to beat a fellow super-club?
We'll see how it all plays out, but finding a way to beat City in the Etihad the last several years has become about as difficult as trying to get London Mayor Boris Johnson to use some hair gel in his shaggy blond mane.
One thing's for certain: This fixture can't be half as boring as the 0-0 yawner these two teams played in on Nov. 25 at Stamford Bridge.
Well, let's at least hope not.
BETS: Manchester City -120, Over 2½ -136
PREDICTION: Manchester City 2 Chelsea 1
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