Manchester City and Chelsea were both predicted to be title challengers but after a crazy start to the season, Pep Guardiola and Frank Lampard have work to do ahead of their showdown on Sunday afternoon.
Both sides are sitting on 26 points although City have two games in hand on their rivals. Their game against Everton was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak in the squad on Monday while Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by Aston Villa.
With seven points separating them from joint-leaders Liverpool and Manchester United, a victory will be vital in this highly-anticipated clash at the Etihad.
City will be without five players for their trip to Stamford Bridge due to Covid-19. Here, Sportsmail picks a combined XI from the players available within Frank Lampard’s outfit and City’s camp ahead of the mouth-watering clash.
Frank Lampard’s (left) Chelsea welcome Pep Guardiola’s (right) Manchester City on Sunday
GOALKEEPER: Edouard Mendy
Manchester City’s first-choice Ederson would have beaten Edouard Mendy to the spot however he revealed he’s self-isolating on New Year’s Eve, meaning Zack Steffen is set to make his Premier League debut.
The Brazilian shot-stopper will be a big miss in such an important game. He has not conceded a goal in five of his previous six league games as Guardiola’s side have been defensively strong.
Chelsea’s No 1 Mendy, signed from Rennes for £22million, has made an instant impact and great first impression, bringing stability and composure between the sticks after the position became a significant weak spot for the Blues last season. He has kept 10 clean sheets this season but has just one in his last six Premier League matches.
Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has impressed but has only kept one clean sheet in six
RIGHT BACK: Joao Cancelo
Chelsea’s 21-year-old England right back Reece James would have pipped City’s Cancelo but Lampard revealed on Friday that he remains on the treatment table after missing the draw with Aston Villa on Monday.
Guaridiola has rotated his right backs this season with Kyle Walker and Cancelo flitting in and out of the side. Walker is out of the clash after testing positive for coronavirus last month.
Cancelo is versatile enough to be able to play at left back as well and is expected to line up for City on Sunday. The 26-year-old provides an attacking threat out wide and he has played his part in the solid defensive displays this season. He has become a dependable defender for Guardiola to call upon.
Full back Joao Cancelo has played his part in City’s solid defensive displays this campaign
CENTRE BACK: John Stones
The centre half appears to be recapturing his best from after a tough period out of the picture. It seemed as though he wasn’t going to get a look in following the arrivals of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake and his struggles for form and injury setbacks.
However he has seized the chance given to him by Guardiola and is currently keeping Aymeric Laporte out of the City starting line-up, striking a formidable partnership with Ruben Dias.
The 26-year-old defender started five of the six matches that City kept clean sheets and his recent revival means Chelsea centre back Thiago Silva does not make the cut. The Brazilian defender, who joined for free in the summer transfer window after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has definitely shored up Chelsea’s backline but Stones has impressed.
John Stones has seized the chance given to him this season and is recapturing his best form
CENTRE BACK: Ruben Dias
The £64m summer signing has slotted in seamlessly to the heart of the City defence. The former Benfica centre half has started 12 out of 14 Premier League matches this season.
Guardiola’s side have conceded the fewest amount of goals, just 12 in 14 games, out of all 20 teams and it’s City’s defence that has been getting the plaudits this season rather than the attacking stars.
Dias is a no-nonsense defender, a big presence at the back and has helped eradicate sloppy errors that occasionally crept into City’s defensive line. The 23-year-old looks as though he’ll be the cornerstone of City’s defence for many years.
Ruben Dias, signed for £64million, has slotted in seamlessly to the heart of the City defence
LEFT BACK: Ben Chilwell
The former Leicester defender, bought for £50m in the summer, has offered a vast improvement to the left side of the Chelsea defence. Strong at the back and going forward, left back was a problem position for Lampard last season.
The Chelsea boss alternated between Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri and both have been linked to moves away from the club. Chilwell was Lampard’s first choice for the spot and the England international has delivered.
Since a delayed start to his Blues career due to injury, the 24-year-old has provided five assists and scored two goals in 19 matches. As some of Chelsea’s attack have faltered Chilwell has provided a constant threat on the left flank and almost bagged the winner with a sweet volley against Villa on Monday.
Guardiola rotates between Benjamin Mendy, Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko, leaving Chilwell as the obvious candidate.
Ben Chilwell has offered a vast improvement to the left side of the Chelsea defence this season
CENTRE MIDFIELD: N’Golo Kante
The World Cup winner rarely has a bad game. The central midfielder knows his responsibilities and works exceptionally hard for the team. A player that often goes under the radar as he maintains such high standards.
Kante’s 2019-20 campaign was hindered by multiple minor injuries but he seems to be over those fitness issues and has started all 16 league games, missing just 23 minutes of the top-flight season so far.
The defensive side of his game is where he thrives and even though he is deployed more further forward than he used to be, Kante constantly snuffs out the danger. Rodri has cemented his place as City’s go-to defensive midfielder ahead of Fernandinho but is pipped by the relentless Kante.
Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante rarely has a bad game and knows how to snuff out the danger
CENTRE MIDFIELD: Ilkay Gundogan
Another central midfielder star who tends to slip under the radar is City’s Gundogan but the 30-year-old is a trusted man in midfield. In recent weeks he has become a pivotal figure for City as they’ve try to make up ground on the leading pack.
Not known for his goals but in his last three games he’s popped up with two. He netted in the 1-1 draw with West Brom and scored the first in their 2-0 victory over Newcastle.
Gundogan is starting to get plenty of minutes under his belt, having played the full 90 minutes of City’s last three games. He edges out the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho from the Blues.
Ilkay Gundogan is a trusted man in midfield and has impressed in recent weeks for City
RIGHT WING: Hakim Ziyech
The 27-year-old wideman has had a frustrating start to life in England as he’s been sidelined for the most part. However the creative attacker is set to return in time for Sunday afternoon’s clash.
Ziyech has only featured in seven Premier League matches this season but he showed more than just glimpses of what he can do, scoring and supplying three assists in those few appearances. Blues fans will be desperate to see him start against City.
Fellow summer recruit Timo Werner, who joined for £53m last summer, has not been firing of late, with his last league goal coming on November 7, but perhaps Ziyech can be the man to help end his barren run. He gives that touch of class.
Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech is in line to feature on Sunday after returning from injury
CENTRE ATTACKING MIDFIELD: Kevin De Bruyne
The first player on the team sheet. The Belgium midfield maestro is a pleasure to watch and can provide that killer ball in an instant.
Although City haven’t been at their free-flowing best this season with goals surprisingly in short supply, De Bruyne has, as ever, been the creator and provided 11 assists in 17 games.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez said earlier this week that he’s the ‘best playmaker in world football’. Chelsea will have to try to limit his influence on the game as possible if they want to get anything from it. No one in the rest of the Premier League, let alone Chelsea’s team, comes close to getting in a starting XI ahead of the 29-year-old.
City midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne is the first name on the team sheet and a joy to watch
LEFT WING: Raheem Sterling
The England international has been one of City’s star performers this season, contributing eight assists and seven goals in 21 matches. He has, in fact, supplied three assists and found the back of the net twice in his last five league games.
Chelsea also have good options on the left flank in Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi but Sterling consistently performs to a high level.
James vs Sterling would have been an interesting battle but either way Chelsea’s defence will have to be at its best to nullify the threat the winger poses.
England international Raheem Sterling (R) has been one of City’s star performers this season
STRIKER: Sergio Aguero
Questions remain over the Argentine’s match sharpness as he’s played just 27 minutes of Premier League football since the end of October. At his best, there is no doubting his clinical ability.
Chelsea could be the ideal opposition for Aguero to rediscover his touch in front of goal. The 32-year-old has notched 10 goals in his previous nine matches against the Blues.
Meanwhile in west London the first-choice centre forward remains unclear. Lampard has regularly deployed striker Werner, who was prolific as a No 9 for RB Leipzig, out on the left and has rotated Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud down the middle.
Manchester City’s all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero has that killer instinct in front of goal
Sportsmail’s combined Chelsea and Manchester City XI ahead of their showdown on Sunday