Spotlight on Man City, Chelsea clash
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
Chelsea can open up an eight-point lead over Manchester City for the second time this season by beating their Premier League title rivals tomorrow in the most pivotal match of the campaign so far.
Having worked so hard in December to get back on level terms with Chelsea, City have allowed JosÈ Mourinho's team to pull clear again after drawing at Everton and losing at home to Arsenal in their last two league games.
For City manager Manuel Pellegrini, nothing less than a victory will do at Stamford Bridge.
"We must close the gap to two points," Pellegrini said.
Throw in a home loss to second-tier Middlesbrough in the FA Cup last weekend and City's form has plummeted - despite star striker Sergio Aguero being back in the side after injury.
Chelsea were also humbled in the FA Cup on Saturday - by third-tier Bradford - but recovered quickly by beating Liverpool on Tuesday to reach the League Cup final.
That win was marred, however, by Chelsea striker Diego Costa stamping on an opponent's leg, leaving the Spain international facing a three-game ban that would rule him out of the City fixture.
With question marks also hanging over the fitness of key center midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who came off with a hamstring injury against Liverpool, Chelsea could be without arguably their two best players this season.
Another subplot is the return of City midfielder Frank Lampard to Chelsea, for whom he played for 13 years and where he is the club's record scorer with 211 goals. Lampard came off the bench to score City's equaliser against his former club in a 1-1 draw in September, and didn't celebrate his goal.
NO IVORIANS FOR CITY
Cote d'Ivoire's progress to the knockout stage of the African Cup of Nations on Wednesday was bad news for City.
It dashed any faint hopes the champions had of having star midfielder Yaya Toure and new signing Wilfried Bony available for the game against Chelsea.
City have not won since Toure, the team's driving force in midfield and a regular source of goals, left for international duty.
With Aguero searching for full fitness after more than a month out injured, goals have suddenly become a problem for City, which has scored only once in three games.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal must decide whether to stick to his preferred 3-5-2 formation or go with a 4-4-2 set-up demanded by the club's increasingly frustrated fans when the 20-time champions host Leicester tomorrow.
Van Gaal says he finds it uncomfortable to watch United when they play four at the back, but results show the team is more effective when it lines up in that formation. He changed to a 4-4-2 midway through United's last league game when the score was 0-0 against Queens Park Rangers - and the move paid off in a 2-0 win.
United have won only two of their last six games in all competitions, and are reeling from being held 0-0 by fourth-tier Cambridge in the FA Cup on Friday.