Champions League chasing Chelsea could not have picked a better time to face title challengers Manchester City. The wheels have fallen off Mancini's side since they travelled to Portugal in the Europa League, whilst Di Matteo's outfit are in swashbuckling form after Abramovich gave AVB the chop.
Losing in Lisbon seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Citizens, not to mention seeing their captain and most important player Vincent Kompany fall victim to injury. That night he was replaced by his usual partner in central defence, Joleon Lescott. Lescott and Kompany both missed the next game against Swansea, which City duly lost.
Stefan Savic and Kolo Toure replaced Mancini's trusted defensive lieutenants, who were both at fault for Luke Moore's winner at the Liberty Stadium. Poor communication and positioning from the reserve centre backs allowed the former Aston Villa forward time and space to head home Wayne Routledge's cross ten minutes from time.
Key to their failure at the back was Savic and Toure again, who just don't look like a secure pairing.
In the European return leg City looked to be sleeping as Sporting raced to a two goal lead, who ran riot during an astonishing first half at Eastlands.
Mancini's men did improve in the second period to win the game 3-2, but it wasn't enough to progress as the English side went out on away goals. Key to their failure at the back was Savic and Toure again, who just don't look like a secure pairing.
Savic is an unproven 21-year-old who has yet to show he is capable of playing in the Premier League whilst 30-year-old Toure has his best days behind him and only recently returned to action after serving a six month ban for failing a drugs test. Hardly a partnership to win the title with.
Add to this a general breakdown in City's attacking menace, largely attributable to the loss of form of influential play-maker David Silva, and you begin to realise why the team are clamouring for Carlos Tevez's return. The Argentine has let down his club this season, and now his team-mates want him to be their saviour. It is almost laughable.
So City welcome Chelsea tonight in this most crucial moment of their title challenge. Lescott and Kompany are unlikely to start which means another run out for the dubious double of Savic and Toure at centre half. Tevez may come on from the bench, which in a way proves just how desperate Mancini is becoming at this late stage in the season. From outcast to super sub is quite a turnaround, and one that is unlikely to go according to plan.
For their part, Chelsea arrive in the North's premier city knowing that their opponents are to be attacked. The Blues have rode a wave of resurgence since the sacking of AVB, with incumbent boss Di Matteo happy to let the senior players have their way at the club.
David Luiz is beginning to shake Gary Neville's description of 'playing like he's controlled by a ten-year-old on a Playstation'
The crowning moment of rejuvenation came at Stamford Bridge against Napoli in their all-or-nothing Champions League return leg. After 90 minutes Chelsea had levelled the tie with a 3-1 scoreline, and minds were transported back to the Jose Mourinho era with the names Drogba, Terry and Lampard on the score-sheet. Extra time favoured the home side and they knocked out their Italian opponents thanks to a Branislav Ivanovic winner.
Terry misses this evening's game, but David Luiz is beginning to shake Gary Neville's description of 'playing like he's controlled by a ten-year-old on a Playstation' and Gary Cahill looks solid at the back, even popping up with the odd goal since his move from Bolton. Lampard will be hoping to score his 150th league goal, a potential first for a midfielder.
The away side have won their last four encounters, and are fresh of the back of a 5-2 thumping over Leicester City. It may have only been Championship opposition, but Fernando Torres found the back of the net twice. If he can continue his comeback and Drogba maintain his performance, the side won't go short of goals.
Had this fixture come in February Chelsea would be sure to lose, but the West Londoners are a different proposition now, with this March match-up looking like three points for the away side.
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