Odds: Chelsea 21/20, The Draw 5/2, Manchester City 13/5
A threat made by Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini before their FA Cup fifth round tie against Chelsea was even scheduled continues to loom over the fixture.
“If we play against Chelsea on Sunday it won’t be a normal team,” the Chilean forewarned.
“It will be a young team. I don’t see why we can’t play on Saturday. I must do what I think is better for the club, which is Champions League.”
The clearly brilliant Nigerian teen striker Kelechi Iheanacho aside, the disconnect between City’s first team and their youthful understudies is sufficiently great that predicting such a line-up would be nigh-on impossible.
City travel to Ukraine to play Dinamo Kiev in the latter competition’s round of 16 on Monday.
Their opponents (who played in Paris in midweek), meanwhile, can focus their attentions on the Cup, with their next fixture not until Saturday February 27.
Even if the Citizens’ manager was minded to play his strongest available XI at Stamford Bridge, their shady away form would make them hard to back for victory.
Meanwhile, signs of the swagger that accompanied Chelsea’s finer moments en route to the Premier League title last season were once more evident against Paris Saint-Germain – ominous news for a City side weakened not only by Champions League considerations, but up to seven first-team injuries.
Win, Lose or Draw?
The likelihood that City will field a side in keeping with their manager’s suggestion that they are willing to sacrifice their place in the world’s oldest knockout competition is reflected in the price on a Chelsea victory.
A PSG outfit in imperious form are the sole team to beat the west Londoners in 12 games under interim manager Guus Hiddink.
However, their defensive record on their own patch, where there is a greater onus on them to take the game to the opposition means the shades of odds against on offer aren’t particularly appetising.
Chelsea haven’t kept a clean sheet in seven Premier League games at Stamford Bridge, shipping a total of ten goals during that period to opposition as average as Sunderland, Norwich and Newcastle.
Even if the City side that turns up isn’t the visitors’ most star-studded incarnation, the likes of Bersant Celina and the aforementioned Iheanacho possess the wherewithal to exploit the Blues shaky rearguard on the counterattack.
The win, lose or draw selection underlines the belief that this one will impoverish those who place their financial faith in a low-scoring encounter.
A mere three of City’s last 15 outings have failed to remunerate over 2.5 goals backers, while Chelsea’s last six home games against Premier League opposition have seen both sides score.
Those 15 Citizens games all featured senior defensive representatives too, so hosts whose confidence is building can expect to net even if Pellegrini’s oath to play the youngsters doesn’t extend to defence.
Who will do the damage?
Diego Costa is rightful 6/4 favourite to score any time, having notched six times in his last six run outs at Stamford Bridge.
City’s Iheanacho is likely to start given Pellegrini’s scheduling protestations and he has scored at least once in every game he has started and received more than 57 minutes of playing time this term.
The Nigerian also looks a decent bet to trouble the scorekeepers at 2/1.
Chelsea have netted six times in the opening 15 minutes of their Premier League home games this season, more than any other side in the division