Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Chelsea test for Man City

Published:Friday | September 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM
AP Manchester City's Sergio Ag├╝ero celebrates scoring a goal during the English Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium in London, last Saturday. The game ended in a 2-2 draw.

MANCHESTER, England (AP): Just a month into the season, Manchester City are already facing a game of huge significance in the defence of their Premier League title.

If City lose at home to early leaders Chelsea on Sunday, the champions will be eight points behind their biggest rivals for the championship after five matches. And that will be a sizeable gap considering the strength of the squad that Jose Mourinho has built for this season.

Buoyed by a 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers last weekend, Manchester United's line-up of all-star attackers heads to another promoted club, Leicester, with Radamel Falcao in line for a first start.

And second-place Aston Villa, the surprise of the season, looks to maintain their unbeaten start when they host Arsenal.

CITY BLUES

Man City's start to the season is giving ammunition to the critics who questioned whether the club's offseason recruitment was good enough.

While most of their rivals brought in exciting attacking talents for the new season, City chose to bolster their squad with extra defenders and a tough-tackling defensive midfielder in Fernando - purchases that were sensible but hardly set the pulses racing. The champions are also down to three strikers after selling Alvaro Negredo on the final day of the transfer window.

City's 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday extended their winless run to three games ahead of the visit of Chelsea, who did the double over City last season.

Some early-season pressure would come on City manager Manuel Pellegrini if he fails to mastermind a victory over Mourinho, whose tactics were perfect in Chelsea's 1-0 win at Etihad Stadium in February.

COSTA RELIANCE

If there's any glimmer of hope among Chelsea's rivals after the London club's superb start to the season, it's Mourinho's reliance on Diego Costa.

Costa has scored seven goals in four straight wins for Chelsea to open the league season, despite being hampered by hamstring problems.

The Spain striker was only a substitute, though, in Chelsea's opening Champions League game - a 1-1 draw at home to Schalke on Wednesday, with Mourinho saying Costa is only fit enough to start one match per week.

"It was not to protect Costa for the game on Sunday," Mourinho said, "it was because he was not in condition to start the game."

WILL FALCAO START?

Given an extra week to acclimatise following his high-profile loan move from Monaco, Radamel Falcao should be ready to start for Man United at Leicester as Louis van Gaal's side look for a second straight win.

Falcao came on as a 67th-minute substitute for Juan Mata against QPR, partnering Robin van Persie up front with Wayne Rooney dropping back into the No. 10 role. That could be the attacking formation Van Gaal goes with in future.

Van Gaal must also decide whether to stick with a four-man defence that seemed to work better against QPR than a 3-5-2 had done in United's opening three games in the league, when they gained just two points.