Kai Havertz adorned the matchday programme for Chelsea’s Premier League clash with Manchester City on Thursday and it was a reminder of his famous winner in Porto, which clinched his side the Champions League title in 2021. A lot has changed since that night – and this week’s defeat means Chelsea have now lost four on the spin to City without scoring since that final. This time, the gap between the two sides at Stamford Bridge may have only been one goal but in terms of strength, quality, depth, fitness and form the difference is sizeable. And that makes Chelsea’s task of trying to break their losing run against City in the FA Cup this Sunday all the more difficult.
They’ve already been beaten at the Etihad in the Carabao Cup and their chances on Sunday were further hit by more additions to their injury list, with Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic forced off in the first half against City. Mason Mount had missed the fixture entirely after picking up a knock in training and while there is hope he could be back in time for the weekend, Graham Potter’s options look limited in comparison with what Pep Guardiola can call upon. Jamie Carragher’s pre-match comments about Chelsea spending hundreds of millions of pounds and only ending up further away from where they want to be felt poignant. There certainly hasn’t been the kick-on from that Champions League success that their supporters would have hoped for.
So how do Chelsea reverse their latest defeat to Man City in the space of four days? They will have to keep Erling Haaland quiet again and bring their youthful energy and intensity in midfield once more – but Potter can’t magic up a more clinical attack and that looks to be where Chelsea’s progress could come unstuck again. They hit a post with Carney Chukwuemeka at Stamford Bridge but their struggles in the final third have become a chronic problem. Perhaps Havertz can come up with a special moment to stun Man City once more, as he did in that Champions League final… They reached the FA Cup final last season but they may need something special to get past the third round this time.
Mikel Arteta is expected to rotate heavily for his side’s meeting with Oxford United and supporters will have a particularly keen eye on the returning Emile Smith Rowe. The 22-year-old’s playing time this season amounts to just 46 minutes having been forced to undergo groin surgery in September. He has not started a game since the 2-0 loss to Newcastle in May. His presence has been missed, particularly recently, with Arteta lacking offensive options across his front line but most notably behind Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka in the wide positions. Smith Rowe was a first-choice starter for much of last season, and it should be remembered that his contribution was a significant one, his total of 10 Premier League goals bettered only by Saka among Arsenal players.
The Gunners are expected to enter the transfer market to bolster their front line this January, with Mykhailo Mudryk and Joao Felix their primary targets, but Smith Rowe, fit again at last, will be hoping to remind everyone against Oxford that Arsenal have another solution already in the midst.
Nick Wright Chelsea will look to reach the FA Cup fourth round when they lock horns with Manchester City at the Etihad in the third round on Sunday evening. And Graham Potter has a new fitness issue hampering his preparations ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Edouard Mendy has sustained a fractured finger that has forced him to undergo surgery. Chelsea released a statement to confirm the injury, and the Senegalese goalkeeper will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Potter did not convey any team news update during his pre-match press conference.
Instead, he talked about his desire to deliver trophies at Chelsea. Potter said, “We always want to try and compete for trophies, absolutely we do. In terms of how that gets measured, you have to take the season as it is and analyse it at the end of the campaign. We’re not halfway through the season yet, there’s still lots to play for.”
“We’ve got a game in a cup competition that of course we want to do well in. We want to go through, that’s for sure, and we want to compete. Obviously we have a difficult game in terms of playing Manchester City at their place but you saw from the other night, we matched them for large periods of the game and gave a pretty spirited performance. We need to do the same again today and try to improve.”
Potter is down to his barebones, with several players on the sidelines. Apart from Mendy, Mason Mount, Recce James, N’Golo Kante, and Armando Broja are unavailable. In addition, Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic picked up knocks against Manchester City in the Premier League this week.
Kepa Arrizabalaga picks himself between the sticks in Mendy’s absence. And Chelsea will line up in a 4-3-3 formation in front of him, with Trevoh Chalobah replacing Thiago Silva in the backline. The young centre-back will join Kalidou Koulibaly in the central defensive unit, with Marc Cucurella and Cesar Azpilicueta being the two full-backs. As for the midfield unit, Carney Chukwuemeka should earn his first start for Chelsea. And the young midfielder will likely join Jorginho and Denis Zakaria in the middle of the park. While Jorginho will sit at the base of the midfield, Zakaria and Chukwuemeka will provide defensive support.