Money rules the beautiful game more than it arguably ever has, and it’s hard to avoid the notion that writing cheques might just be the best way to write your name into the beautiful game’s history books.
We all know the biggest derbies and matchdays that have always dominated the club football calendar – they are the El Clasico, Derby della Madonnina, the Derby Della Capitale, the Glasgow Derby, the Northwest Derby and so many others.
These are the games that crop up nearly every season, and they always seem to capture out attentions, captivate the imaginations and spark excitement like nothing else. Because they have been around for a long time, there is a history there that breeds contempt across the terraces; that creates flashes of anger, intensity and passion. It’s surreal in so many ways, but it’s what makes them so enthralling and easy to buy into as spectacles.
These days, the Premier League has its fair share of rip-roaring battles – so, is the cheekily dubbed ‘El Cashico’ really a matchup for the historical clashes of old?
Can the battle between Manchester City and Chelsea be considered the biggest rivalry in the English top flight?
They are both serious title contenders right now
It is still very early days in terms of anything decisive happening regarding the title chase – this rivalry is in its nascent stages, too – and although they are both used to throwing big figures around the transfer market, a slip-up now would probably prove a lot more costly than a misplaced contract offer.
Manchester City will have the comfort of playing at home when they welcome Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium, but that doesn’t tell the full story, and it certainly doesn’t mean they will have the upper hand in the quest to gain maximum points.
After all, the Citizens have not won a home league match since they defeated Bournemouth 4-0 in mid-September. That was a comfortable victory for them, but their run of three 1-1 home draws between then and now hints at a team in disarray and one that has not yet gotten into their stride in front of their own faithful in the 2016/17 campaign.
It’s tricky to figure out exactly why that has been the case. Perhaps visiting teams have been more up for a fight in the intimidating environs of their elegant arena.
The Pensioners will be hoping they can extend the Sky Blues’ poor run to four consecutive home games without a victory. But they won’t take it for granted because this sort of off-kilter feeling doesn’t manifest itself in these players very often. After all, they haven’t been this bad on their patch since they lost twice in a row back in February when they shipped five goals in two defeats against Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea are in pole position at the summit of the table and have looked unstoppable ever since they switched to their magical 3-4-3 formation, so they should enter this clash as the firm favourites.
It has all the makings of a classic encounter – one team is already playing catch-up.
Contrasting styles lends clash extra bite
It’s always intriguing to see two opposing ideologies come together on a football pitch; there’s something about that prospect which makes the 90-plus minute battle to come all the more intriguing.
It’s no big secret that Manchester City like to pass the ball about the pitch, and under Pep Guardiola the players are slowly adjusting to the system’s idiosyncrasies. As for Chelsea, they like to counter attack; they know how to soak up the pressure and they’re familiar with how to score some eye-catching goals now that the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro are re-emerging as world-class stars.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions for the former Bayern Munich boss so far. Whether it takes them too long to get used to his ideas and philosophies that it might do their title credentials damage remains to be seen, but they should persist with them when they welcome Chelsea this weekend.
Highest average possession in Europe's top 5 leagues this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 28, 2016
Bayern Munich (61%)
Man City (59%)
The usual. pic.twitter.com/EdCQtiv2C2
If Antonio Conte’s men are smart, they will undoubtedly attempt to put intense pressure on the Sky Blues, especially whenever they try to play the ball out from the back. If they can turn over possession in those key areas within 30 yards of the goalmouth, they could grab an easy goal or two. Undoubtedly, the visitors will have their crosshairs set firmly on pressing quite high for the ‘keeper’s kick-outs.
Considering how attack-minded the Londoners’ wing-backs have been, it’s entirely possible that they will be used as an extra line of advanced defence as well. Essentially, it wouldn’t be totally unimaginable to see the entire team shift higher up the pitch to squeeze their opponents into making sloppy passes, hurrying decisions and moving backwards more than they move forwards. City, though, could well pre-empt this and look to expose space down the other end of the pitch with, dare it to be said, some nicely executed ‘long balls’.
It will be an immense test for both teams, but with City the side slightly adrift, anything other than a win for them would probably be viewed as a bad result by many of the fans.
New managers have time to build a history
All great Premier League rivalries have grown feuds across the touchlines – there’s something about a meaningful matchup that just seems to spark the fire in the managers’ bellies as well as the 22 players out on the pitch.
No doubt, we will find out just how much this fixture means to both Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola when the action flares up – as it invariably will – this weekend. Whether it’s an incorrectly brandished card, a horrendous tackle or a contentious offside decision, there are sure to be quite a few.
These two guys are born winners, and nothing sits more uncomfortably with them than a high-profile defeat. They’re not used to not getting their own way when it comes to big-day results so we can expect some fireworks when they come up against each other and it will be interesting to see what mind games and psychological weapons they use in the build-up.
It would be difficult to refute the notion that this tie has the potential to become a tantalising one, but it will take time, controversial incidents and a growth of dramatic events before it can claim to be as anticipated as some of the already well-established games that currently litter the English, and European, fixture list.
By the time they meet again in a few months time, we could well be discussing a tactical battle to define the ages. For now, let’s just hope for a cracking game.