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Chelsea, United battle to stay in touch with runaway City

Chelsea and Manchester United go head to head this weekend in a match neither club dare lose as Manchester City entertain Arsenal eyeing a chance to stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League. Pep Guardiola’s unbeaten City are smashing records with impunity and are already five points clear of Jose Mourinho’s United after nine wins in 10 games.

Elsewhere, Tottenham will look to build on their impressive 3-1 win against European champions Real Madrid in midweek and Liverpool will attempt to stay on the coattails of the Premier League pacesetters at West Ham.

Chelsea turned last season’s Premier League race into a procession but it’s been a different story this time around, with three defeats already they only lost five matches in the whole of last season. Manager Antonio Conte criticised his side after they crashed 3-0 in Rome this week, saying they “lacked everything”, though they are still likely to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages.

Chelsea are already nine points behind leaders Manchester City and defeat against United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday would leave them with an impossible-looking task. “We must find the hunger we showed all of last season, and sometimes this season,” said Conte.

“But this season has been up and down. We need to find consistency.” Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho was lambasted for his cautious tactics in a 0-0 bore draw at Anfield last month, with critics saying he had missed a trick by failing to test Liverpool’s suspect defence.

Since then they have laboured to a couple of wins against Benfica in the Champions League and beaten Spurs 1-0 on home turf in the Premier League, as well as losing to Huddersfield.

Ex-Chelsea boss Mourinho, who held a finger to his lips and told the doubters to calm down after his side beat Spurs last weekend, is unlikely to be persuaded to depart from his pragmatic game plan against Chelsea even though Conte’s men are coming into the match on the back of a poor defensive display against Roma.

Sergio Aguero, who this week became Manchester City’s all-time record goalscorer with 178 strikes, would be the stand-out star at many Premier League clubs. But it is a measure of the attacking riches at Guardiola’s disposal that he has to share star billing with a host of other quicksilver forwards. Aguero is some way down the goalscoring charts, at 12th on the Premier League list, well behind Alan Shearer at the top on 260 goals. -AFP

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