In just the second week of the Premier League season the fixture list has provided us with a clash between two expected title contenders in Chelsea and Manchester City. Both contests between these two sides ended in 1-1 draws last season. The first was an entertaining affair, capped off by Frank Lampard scoring the equalizer for Manchester City, who had been reduced to 10 men after Pablo Zabaleta was sent off, against his old club five minutes from injury time. The second was a far more cagey, dull encounter- Chelsea were missing both Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa through injury and were content playing for a draw that left them with a five point lead at the top of the table. Frankly I could see this one going either way in terms of entertainment value. Perhaps given where we're at in the season Mourinho will direct his side to play adventurously since a loss won't be the end of the world but you'd never put it past him to make this one cagey, especially since Chelsea will be desperate not to allow a rival to gain a 5 point advantage in the table, even if it still mid August.
Here are three important tactical questions to consider ahead of Sunday's contest.
Can Ivanovic contain Sterling after opening week difficulties defending Swansea's pacey Montero?
Branislav Ivanovic had one of his most difficult matches in a Chelsea shirt in last Sunday's opener against Swansea. Swans' phenomenally pacey winger Jefferson Montero was able to beat Ivanovic off the dribble time and again, either getting to the endline to provide crosses for striker Bafetimbi Gomis or cutting inside to shoot. After dribbling past Ivanovic in the first half he provided the cross for a Gomis header that Thibaut Courtois could only parry into the path of Jordan Ayew who finished to put Swansea on level terms. In the second half Montero forced a couple of fine saves from Asmir Begovic, on to replace Courtois after he'd been sent off, after cutting inside. Only Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completed more successful dribbles in the opening week than Montero's 6.
Ivanovic's task won't get much easier Sunday as his direct opponent will likely be Raheem Sterling on the left side of Manchester City's attacking midfield three. Like Montero, Sterling has no shortage of pace and is dangerous when given the opportunity to dribble 1 v. 1 at the opposition fullback. His movement off the ball is more varied than Montero- he'll drift inside more often so Ivanovic will have to be just as cautious when Sterling is off the ball as when he is on it.
Sterling's City debut was mixed- he was involved in City's domination of possession high up the pitch but also showed the wayward finishing he was at times accused of at Liverpool, missing when put clean through on West Brom's goal. Nonetheless he's the type of player that could give Ivanovic fits. While the Serb has been a remarkably consistent and reliable performer at Chelsea, pace and athleticism are not his strongest attributes so he could be in for another long afternoon.
Will Chelsea expose Toure's lack of urgency tracking back when they get opportunities to counter?
Despite Manchester City's overwhelmingly dominant display over West Brom, there were a couple of small signs of lingering weaknesses that we saw last season. Yaya Toure put in a brilliant attacking display but also showed a reluctance to defend and the rare occasions West Brom were able to mount any sort of attack stemmed from Fernandinho having to defend the space in front of the back four on counter attacks on his own. Twice in the first half the Brazilian was forced into desperate tackles near Man City's penalty box to break up West Brom attacks and he finished the match with 4 fouls, more than any other player on the pitch.
Chelsea can be a lethal side on the break. In Eden Hazard they have the Premier League's best dribbler and most dangerous player when presented with loads of space to run into. Toure will have to remain cognizant of the threat Chelsea pose on the break and make quick recovery runs when City lose possession to help defensively in the middle of the pitch.
Will Mourinho start Fabregas in his preferred role alongside Matic or higher up in the #10 role?
It'll be interesting to see where Jose Mourinho uses Cesc Fabregas, his most creative midfielder. Chelsea played some brilliant football last season when Fabregas played deeper in midfield alongside Nemnaja Matic but in more difficult fixtures towards the end of the season Mourinho often opted to use Fabregas higher up the pitch in the #10 role to make room for another more defensive midfielder alongside Matic, most often Ramires.
In their opener against Swansea Mourinho opted to use Fabregas in his preferred deeper role. That match was particularly free flowing and open, something Mourinho doesn't tend to enjoy. Chelsea at times look stretched even before Courtois's sending off sent them down to ten men. It wouldn't be all that surprising if Mourinho opted to deploy another holding midfielder and slide Fabregas to the #10 spot- against a talented title rival like City away from home Mourinho will likely want a slower, less open contest regardless of who plays where.