Manchester City have another opportunity to take a considerable step closer to the Premier League title when they host Chelsea in a blockbuster clash at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Not too long ago, the league season seemed almost certain to be a fierce three-horse race between City, Chelsea and Liverpool, but that landscape has very quickly changed in recent weeks.
The Citizens now enjoy a 10-point buffer over Chelsea (and with a vastly superior points difference), while third-placed Liverpool are one point behind the Blues – albeit with a game in hand.
It adds to a growing feeling that if City can claim victory over Chelsea this weekend it will be highly improbable that they can be caught by the chasing pack.
Both teams have been affected by Covid-19 in recent times, with City having already confirmed that they have introduced stricter protocols and guidelines to avoid further disruptions.
Assistant manager Rodolfo Borrell, who took charge of the City squad in Pep Guardiola’s absence for the FA Cup win at Swindon on Friday night, said that the Blues have tried to tighten up the defences against the spread of Covid.
“We have gone back to the protocols at the training facility that were in place at the beginning of the pandemic. And there is also a lot of guidance and updates in terms of trying to avoid or trying to minimise risky situations.”
Now, with the big game against second-placed Chelsea fast approaching, City hope to have Guardiola, assistant Juan Manuel Lillo and seven first-team regulars return from isolation to become available this week.
It’s understandably become a real challenge for the clubs to keep the focus on the fixtures at hand, but there is no doubt that City would have been delighted to see Chelsea and Liverpool play out to a 2-2 draw at the beginning of the new year.
As it is, City come into this Saturday’s all-important encounter off the back of a seven-match winning run in all competitions, while a sequence of victories in the Premier League stretches back to early November.
Comparatively, the Blues are on a 10-match unbeaten run, having overcome National League side Chesterfield 5-1 in the FA Cup third round.
Chelsea will no doubt be out for revenge after Gabriel Jesus’ second-half strike secured City a statement win at Stamford Bridge in September, which was the Blues’ first defeat of the season at a time when they looked like the team to beat.
That’s changed quite quickly, and it’s City who now have the upper hand as another potentially season-defining battle against Chelsea looms as the headline fixture this weekend.