Two weeks ago, things weren’t looking too bad for Chelsea. 18 matches across competitions under the new wind of Maurizio Sarri had brought with them zero losses, and the Blues from South-West London were positioning themselves as surprise challengers to Manchester City and Liverpool in what was seemingly a two-way title race in England.
Three league outings and two defeats later, their Italian tactician is left scratching his head – not the greatest place to be in while preparing to entertain the undisputed champions of the land.
Chelsea vs Manchester City, a clash of the Premier League’s two most recent winners, is the highlight of the weekend across Europe’s top divisions.
Any Stopping City and the Reds?
Nearly 40 percent of the Premier League season is over, and two teams still remain to be conquered. The routes taken by Manchester City and Liverpool haven’t been similar, but the end results are almost identical.
Pep Guardiola’s English champions have averaged three goals per game in opening up a four-point lead atop the standings after 15 games. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds haven’t quite hit the free-scoring strides of the last campaign, but with 30 goals hit and only six conceded, they are the only ones within a sniff of City.
Prior to an unexpected reversal at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday, 5 December, Chelsea were third in the pack, but now find themselves in fourth – and in danger of slipping further south.
Sarri has been vocal in pointing out his side aren’t title contenders, but if the Blues are to retain any such ambitions, nothing less than a victory will cut it at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, 8 December.
Liverpool, meanwhile, visit seventh-placed Bournemouth on the same afternoon hoping to stay unblemished in the league, but Klopp is likely to rotate his squad given a must-win Champions League group-stage finale against Napoli three evenings later.
Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur are away at Leicester City later on Saturday, while Arsenal and Manchester United are at home to Fulham and Huddersfield, respectively.
Juve vs Inter, and La Liga’s Chess-Board
Cristiano Ronaldo is making his presence felt in Italy. With five goals in his last five league outings, the five-time world player of the year has reached double digits in the Serie A. One of those five goals came from a trip to San Siro where Juventus got the better of AC Milan, and now he gets a shot at bruising the blue half of the city when Inter come visiting to Turin.
Only two spots separate Inter from Juve on the league table, but such is the dominance of the Bianconeri that a victory on Friday, 7 December, will put the defending seven-time Italian champions 14 points clear of their third-placed opponents.
Napoli – second, and eight points off the pace – are at home to second-from-bottom Frosinone ahead of the crunch European fixture against Liverpool.
In Spain, Barcelona are just about keeping their noses ahead of the chasing pack despite playing anywhere close to their usual free-flowing football.
Since a 5-1 Clasico battering of Real Madrid, Barca’s results in La Liga read 3-2 vs Rayo Vallecano, 3-4 vs Real Betis, 1-1 vs Atletico Madrid and 2-0 vs Villareal.
With top spot already sealed in their Champions League group, Ernesto Valverde’s side will hope for a return to usual domination when they hop across to meet Espanyol in an all-Catalan affair on Saturday.
Real Madrid are five points adrift in fifth spot, and will do badly to see that extend as they visit Huesca – bottom of the pile in Spain with just one win in 14 games so far.
Second-placed Sevilla, one point behind Barca, face a tricky trip to Valencia, while Atletico Madrid and Alaves embroil in a third-vs-fourth showdown at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Elsewhere: French Strike, Bayern’s Fright
There will no action in the French Ligue 1, at least not on Saturday, with all league fixtures on 8 December postponed due to nationwide protests against rising gas prices in the country. Scheduled games between PSG and Montpellier, Monaco and Nice, and Toulouse and Lyon, among others, have been indefinitely pushed back.
For reigning champions and league leaders PSG, the inadvertent break comes at a timely occasion – already 14 points clear, the Parisians can now focus all their attention on their Champions League tie in Serbia against Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday; PSG have wrested control of their own fate in the ‘group of death’ with victory over Liverpool on 28 November, but will need all three points to guarantee progress.
In Germany, the prospect of Bayern Munich’s six-year reign coming to an end is seeming very real. The Bavarians find themselves at fourth in the standings, trailing Borussia Dortmund by nine points with just over one-third of the season completed.
Bayern will be at home to Nurnberg on Saturday, while Dortmund are away at Schalke.
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