21st March, 2012
Manchester City go into tonight’s match at home to Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea knowing they face a significant test of their Premier League title hopes.
City’s 1-0 defeat at Swansea on 11 March saw Roberto Mancini’s men lose top spot on the table for the first time since October.
Local rivals Manchester United’s 5-0 thumping of Wolves on Sunday means City will kick-off against a revived Chelsea four points behind the champions.
Everton also host top-five opposition at Goodison Park again on Wednesday with the visit of Arsenal who have recovered from their early-season jitters and are pressing on the heels of neighbours Tottenham for third place in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger’s men may have been dumped out of the Champions League at the hands of AC Milan last week, but they come to Merseyside on a run of five straight League victories that have propelled them back into the top four, fueled by Robin van Persie’s scintillating scoring form.
Manchester City will have the chance to revive their faltering bid for the Premier League title as the whole of the English, and indeed global game continues to wish Fabrice Muamba well.
There has been a sense of the sport being “on hold” in England since Bolton midfielder Muamba’s frightening collapse with a cardiac arrest during last weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final away to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
But although the former England Under-21 international remains in an intensive care unit, increasingly encouraging medical bulletins regarding his recovery should lessen the understandably sombre mood in the Premier League.
As they tackle Chelsea today, victory for a City team beaten last time out at Swansea will see then close to within a point of champions and local rivals Manchester United at the top of the table.
Italian manager Mancini must now decide whether today is the right time to bring back temperamental, if talented, forward Carlos Tevez who went into a self-imposed three-month exile at home in Argentina after falling out with the City supremo in a UEFA Champions League clash back in September.
City defender Joleon Lescott insisted the squad would have no problems welcoming back Tevez into first team action. “He’s like a new signing. He’s not been injured so he is not going to be struggling too much in terms of sharpness and fitness,” Lescott said. “All the boys are excited and can’t wait for him to get playing again,” the England international added.
Roberto Di Matteo takes a fifth-placed Chelsea side to Eastlands in search of a fifth straight win since he succeeded the sacked Andre Villas-Boas.
Meanwhile Fernando Torres has finally found the net with the Spain striker scoring twice in the 5-2 FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester on Sunday to end a goal drought of five months.
The battle for third and fourth, and the Champions League places they bring, is almost as intriguing as the title race.
Arsenal, whose position at one stage this season left many observers pondering whether manager Arsene Wenger had been too long at the Gunners, are now just a point behind third-placed Tottenham and three clear of Chelsea.