Chelsea hold the edge for key Premier League clash with Manchester City
Despite slow starts with new managers, both teams have hit form in their recent matches
Chelsea and Manchester City may not be leading the English Premier League, but they are the top two in the title betting and tomorrow's showdown at Stamford Bridge could be one of the most significant matches of the season.
Both teams have been slow to get going under new managers but head into tomorrow's match buoyed by good wins in their midweek Champions League games, with Chelsea unbeaten in seven games in all competitions and City on a three-match winning run since the shattering home defeat by Bayern Munich.
This is City's third away match in eight days and their wins at West Ham (3-1) and CSKA Moscow (2-1) were signs that Manuel Pellegrini may have found a game plan that works. Chelsea are much more difficult opponents. It is worth noting that Pellegrini does not have a great record as a manager.
Villarreal was his first high-class club team in Europe, reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2006 before being knocked out by Arsenal in unfortunate circumstances. The season before, when Villarreal secured their place in the Champions League by finishing third in Spain's Primera Liga, their home record was exactly the same as title winners Barcelona but they finished 19 points behind because their away record was far inferior.
In fact, while Villarreal were the second-best home team in Spain that season, they were only ninth on away form. When Pellegrini took Malaga to the Champions League with fourth place in Spain two seasons ago, there was a similar imbalance between their home and away records (third-best at home, only 13th away).
In that light, it is interesting that City are top on home form in the Premier League at the moment but currently only 14th away. That gap is sure to narrow, but City's ambitions rest on a significant improvement on the road and it is open to question whether Pellegrini is the man to achieve that.
The one place Pellegrini did have a good away record was at Real Madrid in his sole season as coach with the Spanish giants. Real had a tremendous battle with Barcelona, at the time probably as brilliant as they have ever been, before losing out by three points.
Perhaps that indicates all Pellegrini needed to do well on the road was a better set of players than he had at Villarreal and later at Malaga.
If that is the case, he is in a similar position again with big-spending City. But it is still worth pointing out that ultimately the difference between winning and losing the title was that Barcelona took 13 points out of 15 away to the other top-six finishers and Real only nine.
At the end of that season Pellegrini was sacked by Real and replaced by Jose Mourinho, who achieved what his predecessor couldn't by winning the title the following year. Their meeting tomorrow as rival coaches adds another intriguing twist.
Mourinho is a master of his craft and his achievements at Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid are not only superior to Pellegrini's record but to most other coaches.
He builds a strong foundation at home - like Pellegrini, but without the poor away form - and Chelsea have an incredible record at Stamford Bridge during his two spells in charge.
The 4-1 win over Cardiff in their last home game was Mourinho's 50th at the Bridge in the Premier League, with 14 draws and no defeats. That is a phenomenal 78 per cent win rate.
Nor did the win rate decline drastically in his first spell when Chelsea hosted teams from what was then the big four - Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as Chelsea. Mourinho's home record against those teams was six wins and three draws out of nine (a 67 per cent win rate).
The other notable factor about Mourinho, both in England and elsewhere, is that he has the knack of getting his teams to perform on big occasions.
Overall his Chelsea teams have played 21 games against rivals from the big four, and now the big six, and he has been on the losing side only twice.
Mourinho's record, and doubts about Pellegrini's ability to mould an effective team, especially in big matches, makes Chelsea the team to back.
Chelsea, Derby, Nottingham Forest, Watford, Peterborough, MK Dons, Coventry, Getafe, Hannover