Expect conservative City to aim for draw at Bridge

CHELSEA vs MANCHESTER CITY
SUNDAY – 4.00PM SKY SPORTS 1

THE salvage operation began just in time to save Chelsea’s season from total meltdown, but it looks too late to keep the Premier League trophy at Stamford Bridge, and any flickering hope will go with defeat at home to Manchester City on Sunday.

Even the sanctuary of a top four spot will represent failure for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, especially considering how impressively their championship defence started – and how no side has been a run-away success. A loss for the visitors will KO their hopes of a title tilt as well, but that won’t devastate City whose goal was always Champions League qualification.

Roberto Mancini has undertaken a pragmatic approach to accomplishing this target, with results testifying to a determination not to run before they can walk. A particular feature is nullifying opponents in big games and being happy with draws when other teams might have pushed for more.

Even with the hosts’ vulnerability at the Bridge, where they’ve lost to Sunderland and Liverpool and finished even with Everton and Aston Villa, there’s no question Mancini would take a point and the stalemate is a decent option at 14/5 on Betdaq. In half of City’s eight league draws this term, the final score has been nil-nil and three were in similar situations when Mancini’s charges took the ‘more to lose than win’ approach away to Tottenham and Arsenal and at home to Man Untied.

Chelsea’s strike force would be the envy of any fantasy football side, but Ancelotti can’t get them to click. Fernando Torres remains goalless and since his debut no Blues striker has managed a league goal. He, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba were also wasteful in midweek European action. Furthermore, this is City’s 11th outing in 37 days which should ensure they are particularly conservative. A punt on no goalscorer appeals at 9/1 with Victor Chandler and spread punters are advised to sell goals with Sporting Index at 2.4.

BEHIND THE LINES

They failed to impress against the Scots and after the outcome in Italy last weekend, England’s win against the French doesn’t look so good. But victory for Johnno’s boys in Ireland means the turgidity of those performances will all be forgotten. We make the English narrow four-point favourites - and don’t forget we’re still offering our even-money handicaps - but the Irish certainly won’t lie down and give the Red Rose a free shot at the Grand Slam.

The Chelsea v Manchester City match is interesting in that a draw will not be good enough for either team. Although fifth-gear wasn’t called for, Chelsea were pretty poor on Wednesday evening and you still have to question whether Carlo Ancelotti knows who his best strikers are. Still, we are a best-priced 4/6 for the Blues and think they should win.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup could well be decided by the going this afternoon. Denman’s connections have been praying for rain and while some give Long Run a good chance otherwise, no 6-year-old has won the race since 1963. In any case it looks likely to be a thriller.