Manchester City cannot be sure what result they will pick up at Stamford Bridge but they already know that it will matter.
Every result is important but some are more significant than others in a 38-game season where, for example, losing at Tottenham or Liverpool doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t win the title. During Pep Guardiola’s tenure at the Etihad, Chelsea away without fail has been one of the most significant games.
Back in 2017, the Blues were beaten by Antonio Conte’s runaway champions. It was a pretty even contest but the Londoners were just slightly better in a match that was also notable for Willy Caballero playing in goal – a sign that the Claudio Bravo gamble had failed and City would need to head into the transfer market again unless the manager wanted to reconsider his opinion of Joe Hart (which he didn’t).
Six months later came that famously thumping Kevin De Bruyne winner, the goal that made for a raucous away dressing room and sent belief soaring through a team that would go on to smash a number of Premier League records and win the league with an astonishing 100 points.
The next season was an outlier in the sense that City lost at Stamford Bridge but still won the title. Only just though.
Defeat to Maurizio Sarri’s side in December 2018 was their first of the season but triggered three losses in that month to leave them trailing leaders Liverpool heading into the second half of the campaign; only a sensational run of 14 straight victories saw the Blues pip Jurgen Klopp’s men by a single point in a title race of the highest quality.
Chelsea ultimately crowned Liverpool as champions the following season, defeating an erratic City when football returned after the lockdown to spark jubilation across Merseyside as Guardiola’s side were dethroned.
They were not in a healthy place going into their meeting at the beginning of January 2021 either. A match with Everton days earlier had to be cancelled because of a serious Covid outbreak in the City squad and they travelled down to West London missing eight first-team players.
A backs-to-the-wall performance of immense quality also saw the false nine tactic used that would prove so valuable to them over the next few months as they built up an unassailable lead at the top of the table. It would also play a part in Frank Lampard being sacked, paving the way for Thomas Tuchel to come in and turn their season around.
Having bested City in the FA Cup, the Premier League and the Champions League since then, and actually bought a quality centre-forward in the transfer market, Chelsea look to be in better shape heading into Saturday’s game. Trailing by three points going into the fixture, defeat will leave Guardiola’s group at a major disadvantage against a team many are tipping to win the league.
That will add to the pressure on City, but at least, unlike in Porto, there are no unknowns for the manager and his players. They know exactly how difficult it is to get a result at Stamford Bridge – especially with their injury problems – yet they have also got the shared experience of winning there. For all Tuchel has going for him, he cannot say that.
City may face stiffer competition this season, but nobody knows how to win the Premier League matches that matter like they do.