Premier League Preview: Despite Mourinho’s claims, title hopes on the line when Chelsea visits Manchester City

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If Chelsea can’t beat Manchester City at the Etihad, one might reckon nobody in the Premier League can.

Having scored 42 goals in their friendly confines, Manchester City have a chance to pick up an enormous win to not only go top of the table but shatter Chelsea’s hopes at finishing first.

The two teams meet in the City of Manchester Stadium at 3pm ET Monday on NBCSN and live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.  Coverage will begin at 2:30.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been at his usual mind games ahead of the match, declaring that Manchester City should have won more titles in the recent years, but also oddly declaring they are “not title candidates” and that the Premier League title is “not what we’re working for.”

He also declared that Manchester City are not the best team in the world as Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood claimed, but instead, “They are lucky,” he declared, suggesting the referees have given them “everything in their favor.”

Lucky or good, Manchester City have a sparkling home record that has been highlighted week in and week out, and yet the longer it extends the more it bears repeating.

Not only do they have 42 of their 68 goals this season at home, but those goals have translated directly into points – a perfect 11 of 11 at the Etihad.

source: Getty Images
Even the calm, collected Pellegrini has trouble keeping his emotions in when he faces off with Jose Mourinho.

There is a history between Mourinho and City manager Manuel Pellegrini.  The former supplanted the latter after just one season at Real Madrid, which left Pellegrini bitter as ever at the lack of a serious opportunity to build a squad of his own.

He’s never let Mourinho live it down, and Jose has always held it over his counterpart’s head.  It didn’t help the situation that the Blues defeated their lighter-tinted opponents in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in the midst of Joe Hart’s dark days.

Since then, Manchester City have embarrassed team after team at the Etihad, with scorelines like 7-0 over Norwich, 6-0 over Tottenham, 4-1 over Manchester United, and 6-3 over Arsenal.  No doubt Pellegrini would be delighted if he could add Chelsea to that ever-growing list.

However, with Chelsea on their own bit of a run, this could be Pellegrini’s toughest test at home thus far, and he will have to complete the quest without leading scorer Sergio Aguero who popped his hamstring midweek.

That means Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo will take over the reigns in City’s furious attack, something they did earlier in the season when Aguero missed time with the same problem, and the team didn’t miss a beat.

City won all five matches during that stretch, including 2-1 at home over Liverpool, and putting four past Fulham and three on Swansea both on the road. However, they are also dealing with a long-term injury layoff for Samir Nasri, and missing both will seriously impair their attack.

A key player in the battle, thanks to the injuries, may be Stevan Jovetic.  The Serbian has barely featured this season, but the quality summer addition can without question be a spark the team needs with the current nucleus on the sidelines.

Eventually, however, it all comes back to the managers.  Will Mourinho play disciplined defense and look to absorb pressure and counter City when given the chance? Or will they take the bull by the horns and press early? Will Pellegrini let his dogs loose from the get-go and look to shock the visitors, or will they sit back and build from defense?

And finally, Pellegrini will hope he can  get Mourinho off his shoulders and finally gazump the perpetual thorn in his side, but if anyone can stop the City train in its tracks, its Chelsea.  They’ve kept clean sheets at Old Trafford and the Emirates.  Is the Etihad next on the list?

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)