The FA Cup fifth round weekend’s pick of the bunch – defending Premier League champions Chelsea take on title contenders Manchester City at Stamford Bridge this afternoon in a heavyweight top-flight affair.
Between the Blues and Citizens; the two clubs have competed in two of the previous four FA Cup finals, so both outfits will be keen to knock each other out on their way to the quarter-finals of this competition.
Chelsea have breezed into the fifth round of the FA Cup after comfortably fending off League One Scunthorpe United 2-0 last month, before thrashing Championship outfit Milton Keynes Dons 5-1 away from home to ease into the last-16.
As for City; they have similarly sailed through both obstacles thrown their way in this tournament so far, firstly brushing aside Norwich City 3-0 at Carrow Road before humiliating rock-bottom Aston Villa 4-0 in the Midlands in late-January.
However Guus Hiddink’s hosts suffered a setback in midweek after hearteningly losing 2-1 to the hands of Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain in their UEFA Champions League last-16 first-leg clash. That was the first defeat of the Dutchman’s reign since he took over from former manager Jose Mourinho back in mid-December.
Meanwhile despite having longer to rest from last Sunday’s sickening 2-1 defeat at home to fellow title contenders Tottenham, City boss Manuel Pellegrini will inevitably have one eye on their forthcoming Champions League date with Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday.
Harking back to the pair’s previous meeting; there was only one winner back in August 2015 at the Etihad Stadium when Manchester City ran riot with a comfortable 3-0 victory over the freefalling defending league champions.
Goals from Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho sealed an easy win for the hosts, but Chelsea have been much improved since Hiddink’s arrival, going unbeaten in his nine Premier League games in charge.
Forward Eden Hazard is set to keep his startling spot for the visit of Manchester City, although captain John Terry remains sidelined alongside fellow centre-half and long-term absentee Kurt Zouma (Knee) after failing to recover from a hamstring problem.
That means Blues boss Hiddink is likely to field England international Gary Cahill and Serbia star Branislav Ivanovic together once more in the heart of Chelsea’s defence.
Youngster Bertrand Traore could also be handed a start at Stamford Bridge by the Dutchman following the attacking midfielder’s impressive displays from the bench in recent weeks.
Meanwhile City boss Pellegrini will replace England number one Joe Hart with experienced Argentine Willy Caballero in goal as he has done during the previous two rounds.
As mentioned before; with preparations under way for their midweek visit to the Ukraine, City manager Pellegrini could bring in the young likes of Manuel Garcia, Aleix Garcia and Bersant Celina into the first-team fold.
This is because the Chilean boss is likely to rest stars such as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva for Wednesday’s clash against Kiev.
Skipper Vincent Kompany is unlikely to feature as he continues to fully recover form a muscular injury, meaning Martin Demichelis will partner Nicolás Otamendi at the back.
Forward Kelechi Iheanacho; who scored a hat-trick against Villa in the last round, should also start in place of the rested Aguero.
League Position: Chelsea – 12th (33 pts); Man City – 4th (47 pts)
Previous Meeting: Man City 3-0 Chelsea – August 16, 2015
Form: Chelsea – WWDDWL; Man City – DWWWLL
Key Men: Chelsea – Diego Costa; Man City – Kelechi Iheanacho
Shoot Says: Chelsea 2-1 Man City