The table can be deceiving. It seems for all intents and purposes that Manchester City are a team on the decline and that Chelsea look increasingly lost under the leadership of Lampard, with both teams situated outside of the top 4 as we head into Gameweek 17. However if we look at Xg diff, a calculation which takes into account how well sides have created clean cut chances and not concede clean cut chances... both Chelsea and Manchester City are the teams who are right behind Liverpool. Their 'quality' of play is title contender level but unfortunately results haven't quite gone their way although in City's defence - they have two games in hand.
Losing Reece James to injury is a big blow for Chelsea who has dominated the right flank to the point where we named him our right back of the season so far. However, the penalty he gave away at Arsenal suggests he was running on fumes and in has come the experienced Cesar Azpilicueta. Now the Spaniard lacks the two-way game he once had in his locker but with Lampard not really in a position where he can afford a loss, the extra solidity he can bring to the table defensively will be important in this fixture. It also means Zouma has two very experieced talkers either side of him and alleviates any fears of rash moments defensively.
As suggested in our recent podcast, Lampard has seemingly dispensed with Werner for now and slotted in the likes of Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic out wide. Both of these two can naturally stretch the play, can progress the play from deeper areas and provide the likes of Abraham and Giroud with ammunition. Where Lampard has struggled with Werner is that his teams play an awful lot of passes in the build up and this means Werner has to partake in this, thus neutralising his ability to be elusive, focus on the half space between the right back and right centre back and make darting runs into space. He is a counter-attacking player brought into a side which dominates possession - not a great fit.
Manchester City have comfortably the best defensive record in the league. In real terms they have only conceded 12 goals and their XgA stats mirror these numbers. Their nearest contenders have conceded 3 more goals and have XgA stats over 16. It is not really a surprise as Manchester City usually have great defensive records - courtesy of their high level of ball retention and ferocious ball-winning high up the pitch - but this year it feels different. Well the key thing to note is that pressing numbers have fallen across the division, City are no different in this regard. Their per game pressures in the attacking third have fallen from 43.4 to 34.6 - which is evident in their more lasses-faire approach to games.
Manchester City have scored 16 less goals than the leading offensive unit Liverpool and trail Chelsea by 9 goals. They are really missing Aguero up front, and Sterling being off the boil compared to yesteryear is also hurting them. With Chelsea having a pretty solid defensive record, it is tough to see how the City forward line can really trouble the likes of Thiago Silva and Zouma if they are on form. Whilst they conceded 3 against Arsenal, upon closer inspection - one was a silly penalty given away by Reece James (uncharacterstic and in any case he is not available) and a blockbuster free-kick from Xhaka from a fair distance as well as a freak goal by Saka.
Giroud v Stones
Whether the Frenchman starts or not is irrelevant. He holds the key for this Chelsea side in the big encounters as when he is in the mood he can pose a threat against any defence from an aerial point of view. Whilst Chelsea have the likes of Zouma - as their beast who deals with the physical confrontations, Man City do not have such a designated hard man. Stones has seen his stock rise with a series of good performances and handling the likes of Abraham and Giroud will be a good litmus test of his physicality.
Hudson-Odoi v Mendy
The much sought-after yet rarely featured Englishman has finally broken into the first team in recent weeks despite media pressure questioning whether he was really bothered about playing regularly. He was instrumental in Chelsea's belated fightback against the Gunners and he has looked lively in performances since. With Kyle Walker out because of Covid, it means he is likely to face Mendy who is the worst full back at Manchester City from a defensive perspective. If he wants to put himself in the shopping window or earn the trust of Lampard, this is the perfect opportunity to make a name for himself.
Kante v De Bruyne
Two EPL giants go head to head, with both of them seemingly on the wane with their best years behind them. Nevertheless they have the knowhow to decide the big games if their legs can support their brains and this promises to be a fascinating duel. With City becoming increasingly conservative in their midfield selection, it should be much easier for Kante to keep tabs on the Belgian and thus there will be a lot of pressure on Gundogan to make an impact when he glides forwards. Expect a stalemate.
Chelsea: Mendy, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Silva, Chilwell, Kovacic, Kante, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud, Pulisic
Manchester City: Ederson, Cancelo, Stones, Dias, Mendy, Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Sterling, Aguero
Prediction: With Tuchel lurking in the background, there is a lot of pressure on Lampard going into this game. I do think there is a decent manager in there waiting to come out and he just needs time to figure out how best to utilise this rather bloated squad in an attacking sense. He has an embarassment of riches and it has affected him, as he has come across indecisive and his side have symbolised this on the pitch. City are grinding their way to the top and look like a side that is hard to beat but they too look rather uninspiring in possession.
Final prediction will be made once the lineups are out on Twitter @pythaginboots.