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City v Chelsea: Expert view

NO ENTRY: John Stones keeps a watchful eye on Eden Hazard

NO ENTRY: John Stones keeps a watchful eye on Eden Hazard

Manchester City entertain Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday as the Premier League table-toppers go head-to-head with the reigning champions.

City emerged victorious at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season and ahead of Antonio Conte’s side’s trip north, we spoke to ESPN’s Chelsea correspondent, Liam Twomey, to get the inside track on the opposition.

How would you sum up Chelsea’s season?

In a word: troubled.

Very little has gone to plan for Chelsea since lifting the Premier League trophy in May.

They missed out on transfer targets last summer and lost technical director Michael Emenalo in November, while on the pitch, inconsistency has been the main issue.

Deprived of several men who were key contributors last season, namely Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic, a thin squad has been forced to navigate a much fuller schedule thanks to the return of Champions League football.

What’s changed since the title-winning campaign?

Costa has left a huge void up front and Alvaro Morata has so far struggled with the burden of leading a top team through a gruelling season.

At the other end of the pitch the defence has not been as settled.

Some of that has been by design - Andreas Christensen's emergence has been the highlight of the campaign – but the collective chemistry has been disrupted.

Tiemoue Bakayoko is yet to provide the same solidity Matic brought and there is also the fact that Conte's 3-4-3 system no longer catches opponents by surprise; most teams Chelsea face now know how to match up.

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Who is the dangerman City need to be wary of?

Eden Hazard is the class of this team and usually raises his game for the big occasion, but on current form City should probably be even more worried about Willian.

Chelsea are at their most dangerous when their two dribbling creators combine, especially in transition, and the Brazilian has shown more of a desire to be aggressive in the final third recently, as Barcelona and Manchester United found out to their cost.

What did you make of City’s performance at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season?

It was a real statement performance.

You could tell City were particularly motivated to showcase their title credentials at the home of the champions.

Morata's withdrawal after only 35 minutes with a hamstring injury helped their cause, but the way Pep Guardiola's men pinned Chelsea back and ultimately picked them apart with a brilliant Kevin De Bruyne goal was mightily impressive.

Do you think Chelsea will secure a top-four place?

Until this month I was very confident, but Chelsea have lost momentum just as Liverpool and Tottenham have found their respective grooves.

United appeared the most catchable rival, which is why defeat at Old Trafford was such a blow to their chances - though if they don't make the top four, Conte will likely point to back-to-back losses against Bournemouth and Watford as the decisive setback.

If they don't win at the Etihad on Sunday it's hard to see them making up the ground and, given City's quality and form, that's not a good situation to be in.

Who do you perceive City’s dangerman to be?

City have threats all over the pitch but De Bruyne is the biggest.

It's hard to argue against him as the best midfielder in the world at the moment, capable of seeing and executing defence-splitting passes from pretty much anywhere or scoring from any range with either foot.

Chelsea are more familiar with him than just about anyone and if they can find a way to limit his influence, they might stand a chance of repeating last season's victory at the Etihad.

Predicted XI?

(3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Pedro.

You can follow Liam on Twitter, @liam_twomey

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