LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Ramires of Chelsea is tackled by Gael Clichy of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on December 12, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Chelsea at Manchester City. Yikes. This is the toughest fixture left on the Blues' domestic slate, and it's coming in a competition in which we really could use all the points we could get. City, of course, are perfect at home, having won all fourteen Premier League matches they've played in the Etihad Stadium (although Napoli held them to a draw in the Champions League and both Manchester United and Liverpool have had success there in the domestic cups). It falls upon Chelsea to break that streak - but it's not like we haven't managed to wreck any of City's runs so far this year.
Game Date/Time: 7:45 PM GMT (3:45 PM EST), Wednesday, March 21st.
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK), ESPN 2 (USA).
As mentioned earlier, Chelsea will be missing both John Terry and Oriol Romeu, which means that they're fairly restricted in terms of team selection in the back lines. Neither player's absence is the end of the world - Gary Cahill is a capable understudy for Terry, and it's not like we've seen much of Romeu over the past month or so. John Obi Mikel can do more or less the same job.
Manchester City welcome back Pablo Zabaleta and Gareth Barry as they look to shore up their stable of amazingly mediocre players, but there's unhappy news for Roberto Mancini on the defensive front. Centre back Joleon Lescott is definitely out, and Vincent Kompany is, by most accounts, a major doubt. Losing their main central pairing would make City far more vulnerable to the likes of Didier Drogba and a possibly revitalised Fernando Torres. The big news is the return to the substitute's bench of Carlos Tevez, who has been welcomed back to the team after saying he's very sorry for refusing to play for them.
Now that Yaya Toure has returned from the Africa Cup of Nations, Manchester City have gone back to their usual shape - a a 4-2-3-1 with Yaya Toure anchoring the attack while a trio of attackers flit around him. Against Swansea, Mancini played David Silva, Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli, and I'd expect Nasri to be dropped for Aguero on Wednesday. The pivot be filled by one of City's stable of pretty decent central midfielders - Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and James Milner could each fit in, and it was the latter two that played against the Blues at Stamford Bridge.
As Carefree Chonicles pointed out earlier, one of the most obvious aspects of City's formation is that their wide players aren't really deserving of the moniker. Assuming Adam Johnson doesn't start (and there's no reason to assume he will), City will be fielding a pair of players who love to cut in on the flanks and relying on the fullbacks for width. This means that their trio in the centre is going to be reinforced by the likes of Silva and Aguero to create rather unhappy overloads for the Blues.
My response would be a shape I don't usually favour - a 4-4-2 diamond. This would restrict the centre, allow Torres and Drogba to attack City's fragile defensive pairing and give Juan Mata the freedom to create without having to worry about much in the way of defending. Sure, it would leave the fullbacks exposed, but most of City's threat comes through the middle so it's not as though that's the worst thing in the world. Here's the lineup I would put out:
Roberto di Matteo can make alterations depending on what Roberto Mancini does, but I'd suspect that coming out in a diamond, something Chelsea haven't done in 14 months, would be enough of a surprise that the Blues can establish themselves early. Daniel Sturridge and Frank Lampard are casualties of the hypothetical new formation, but both are potent weapons even while on the bench.
Shape is only the start of things though. Chelsea will need to work very hard to get the ball back as well as looking for holes in City's defence on the transition. Clogging up the centre and frustrating our hosts is the key to Chelsea breaking up their opponent's perfect run at the Etihad. Streaks are for breaking, and although the Blues will have to play perfectly in order to get one point (or three) from their trip up to Manchester, it's by no means out of the question.