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Feb 25, 2010

ESPN Soccernet Preview: Chelsea v Manchester City

Live on ESPN2 at 07.45 ET

It's a reunion for former Milan rivals Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini but, given newspaper headlines in recent weeks, it is likely that another renuion will be the focus of attention.

Both clubs have seen their share of negative stories in the media in recent weeks yet, for Ancelotti, he can at least be content that his team's problems have emerged from issues off the field.

John Terry and Ashley Cole have apparently brought enough bad publicity on Chelsea to force the club to speak to players about their responsibilities, yet they sit top of the table and performed admirably at Inter Milan, even if they trail 2-1 going into the second leg.

For Mancini, the honeymoon period seems like a distant memory. His focus on taking over the club has been to emphasise the importance of clean sheets and to intensify training sessions, prompting recent reports of widespread unrest. Mancini said those suggestions were "incredible", but results and performances on the field show a squad assembled at vast expense struggling to fulfil its potential.

It's perhaps telling that City will go into this game in hope rather than expectation. While their current position is healthy - level on points with fourth-placed Spurs with a game in hand - the concern is that results need to improve quickly if the players are to view Mancini as anything other than a short-term measure. A positive result at Stamford Bridge, then, could make a significant difference to both club and coach.

Nonetheless, the focus ahead of the game and quite possibly after it will be on the meet-up between Terry and Wayne Bridge. Stories are already about whether Bridge plans to shake Terry's hand, and any unsavoury tackles between the duo could well make the back pages.

Chelsea player in focus: Didier Drogba. Drogba was unable to score in the San Siro on Wednesday, but only because his free-kick cannoned down from the underside of the crossbar and out. Drogba has the power to cause substantial problems for any defence and, with City still to find real cohesion at the back, he will be confident of adding to his 19 league goals this season.

Manchester City player in focus: Carlos Tevez: "It's a big problem for us. I hope he comes back. I need him." Mancini's reaction to his star striker's trip back to Argentina after health problems with his new-born daughter serves to highlight the importance Tevez has taken on at Eastlands in recent months. With Emmanuel Adebayor set to be suspended for the match after his red card in the 3-1 defeat to Stoke on Wednesday, Tevez will need to find form.

Key battle: John Terry v Wayne Bridge: All eyes will be on Terry and Bridge on Saturday and the interest has only increased after Bridge sacrificed his place at this summer's World Cup as he felt his presence alongside Terry would be "potentially divisive". Terry has struggled for form since the allegations emerged, admitting fault for the 2-1 defeat at Everton and again culpable for Inter Milan's first goal on Wednesday, but Bridge has seen an improvement in form since his recent return from injury after a poor end to 2009.

Tactics: Carlo Ancelotti sprung a surprise at Inter when Florent Malouda was selected as a full-back after Juliano Belletti apparently failed to prove his fitness, but with Paolo Ferreira eligible on Saturday and the possibility of injured players returning, it is unlikely Chelsea will be forced into such an attacking selection again. The 4-3-3 used against Inter worked well for Salomon Kalou but less well for Nicolas Anelka, so a 4-4-2 is perhaps the most likely option on Saturday. City, meanwhile, have adopted a 4-5-1 with Emmanuel Adebayor up front but, with Adebayor out, Carlos Tevez back and the limited success of the system, they may well also revert to 4-4-2.

Quotes: Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is backing his city rivals at Stamford Bridge: "Well, we hope so. City, of course, are a good side. They're chasing that fourth place, they've got a lot of good players and they'll have a chance because Chelsea are coming back from a game against Inter."

Roberto Mancini wants Manchester City to move on from their FA Cup exit at Stoke: "We must focus on the Chelsea match because if we want to finish in the top four we must pick up as many points as we can, but I'm happy with my players."

In the news: Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge has made himself unavailable for England selection as a result of the off-field issues with Chelsea's John Terry. A statement read: "It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive."

Chelsea team news: Ashley Cole is a long-term absentee while Michael Essien will also miss out at the weekend. Jose Bosingwa and Deco are nearing a return while both Juliano Belletti and Alex were named on the bench against Inter. Petr Cech is awaiting tests on a calf injury but is thought to be unlikely to feature.

Manchester City team news: Emmanuel Adebayor is suspended after his dismissal for violent conduct, but Carlos Tevez is thought to have returned from Argentina. Martin Petrov is unavailable until mid-March with a knee problem while Patrick Vieira continues to serve his ban after picking up a three-match ban for kicking out at Stoke's Glenn Whelan.

Probable Chelsea line-up (4-4-2): Hilario, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Ferreira, Mikel, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba

Probable Manchester City line-up (4-4-2): Given, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Bridge, De Jong, Wright-Phillips, Barry, Bellamy, Tevez, Santa Cruz

Soccernet prediction: Both teams come into the match on the back of a defeat, but Chelsea have looked much the better side and should be able to take all three points against a City side seemingly losing confidence week on week.

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