The first major trophy of the season is up for grabs on Sunday when Chelsea and Manchester City clash in the Carabao Cup final.
For Pep Guardiola’s City, it’s the chance to secure part one of the quadruple – with the Citizens still chasing silverware on four fronts – but for Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri it’s more a question of self-preservation.
There are rumours abound in the London footballing press that behind-the-scenes, Chelsea bosses have been discussing possible successors to Sarri, with some suggesting a new face will be at the Blues’ helm before the end of the season.
Either way, a Chelsea win on Sunday would almost certainly buy the Italian some time, even if it may not be enough to save him in the medium or long term, although the same rumours also suggest that Sarri’s relationship with the club’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has broken down.
TOP TIP! – Chelsea to win 2-1 @ +1700 / Hazard as anytime goalscorer @ +275
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All of which adds up to a very unhappy ship in west London and quite whether their midweek success over Malmo in the Europa League will be enough of a fillip to gear them up for this final is the big question.
City, by contrast, will be buoyed by a thrilling midweek win Champions League win in Gelsenkirchen, against FC Schalke 04, in which they took the lead, went 2-1 down, lost Nicolás Otamendi to a red card, but ended up winning 3-2 thanks to a last-minute winner from Raheem Sterling.
Guardiola’s stock remains at its peak and with such an expensively assembled, the combination of quality both on and off the pitch appears irresistible and in stark contrast to their opponents.
Much of Sarri’s criticism centres on his tactical inflexibility – particularly in the face of his side’s stuttering form – and his apparent inability to motivate his star players. Interestingly though, there have been games this season where said big names have delivered, almost despite the fractious relationship with their manager.
Blues’ fans will be hoping Sunday is one of those days, when the players put the club’s off-field struggles to one side and deliver a performance that matches their quality – and we don’t consider this to be out of the question.
In terms of team news, Chelsea could be without keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga after he picked up a hamstring strain in the FA Cup defeat by Manchester United, but on a more positive note Ruben Loftus-Cheek is fit again after suffering a back problem.
One of the big questions, will be if Sarri is to persist with the much-criticised Jorginho at the base of his midfield or instead returns N’Golo Kanté to his preferred position as the protector of the back-four. Chelsea fans have been vociferous in their calls for the little Frenchman to be returned to the position in which he starred last season.
For City, Sergio Aguero is expected to again lead the City line and there was some good news for them in midweek when Vincent Kompany returned from injury sooner than expected, to fill Otamendi’s role in the back-four.
Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph however will be out for City with their respective long-term injuries, and there are also doubts over John Stones and Gabriel Jesus, who both missed the Schalke game with muscle injuries.
So, while City will start as understandable favourites, for obvious reasons the value here is very much with Chelsea – even for the straight win at a juicy +500 . The problems for the Blues will start if they concede early, but if they can keep it tight early on and tuck their full-backs in to protect their centre-backs, then it could get interesting.
In Eden Hazard, Chelsea have the rarity of a player who can almost win a game single-handedly and if he fires on Sunday, they undoubtedly have a chance. +1400 for a Chelsea 1-0 win looks extremely good value – City are under a load of pressure to deliver remember – but even better is 2-1 Chelsea +1700 with BetVictor as we can’t imagine City not scoring.
Also, Hazard as anytime goalscorer at +275 with Bet365 is, in our eyes, a must.
TOP TIP! – Ozil anytime goascorer @ +325 / Arsenal to win 3-1 @ +1200
Arsenal’s season has been the epitome of ‘rollercoaster’, but a win at Huddersfield last time out followed by a midweek win over Bate Borisov, to take them through to the last 16 of the Europa League, has improved the mood at the Emirates.
The Gunners are locked in a battle for fourth place with Manchester Utd and Chelsea – a single point separates the three teams – and so home games against sides outside the top six are perceived as must-wins if they are to give themselves a chance of Champions League qualification.
The challenge for Southampton is a very different one as defeat by Cardiff two weeks ago, at St Mary’s, saw them drop into the bottom three. With Huddersfield Fulham already looking certs for the drop, the Saints are locked in a six-way battle to avoid 18th place.
Goals for Southampton have been hard to come by though – 28 goals scored from 26 league games – and for that reason alone we struggle to see them making too much of a dent in an Arsenal defence that’s hardly been watertight.
Interestingly, Unai Emery recalled Mezut Ozil for the Europa League game and he may feature against Saints, so we’re very tempted by the +325 on offer from 888sport for him to get on the scoresheet. In terms of the score, it’s impossible to see past the home win with the +1200 on offer from Bet365 for 3-1 looking decent value.
TOP TIP! – United & Liverpool to draw 2-2 @ +1250 / Pogba first goalscorer @ +750
The big game of the weekend – the Carabao Cup final aside – sees the old rivals from the north-west clash at Old Trafford.
For the visitors it will be a chance to go back to the top of the Premier League, while for United it will be the chance to not only push forward in their quest for a Champions League spot but to put a dent in their greatest rivals’ challenge for the title. For United fans this will arguably be their biggest motivator on the day.
Partly for that reason and partly because United are in a rich vein of form, we have a strong inkling that the Red Devils will make this a tough afternoon for Jurgen Klopp’s men. Any game between these two giants is tense and competitive, but this one more than ever with so much at stake.
But, while we can see it being a nervy one for Liverpool, we can see them having just enough to emerge with a point, with a 2-2 +1250 with 188bet not out of the question. Consider also the +750 on offer from Bet365 for the in-form Paul Pogba to be first goalscorer.
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