Manchester City will have more than just revenge on their minds against Chelsea on Saturday, with Pep Guardiola’s men at risk of leaving themselves with a mountain to climb in the Premier League title race.
A frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Southampton last week lent weight to the argument that they lack the predatory striker needed to keep pace with a stronger batch of title contenders than they faced last season.
Guardiola’s champions are just three points behind Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool after five games of the season.
But that gap could easily grow over the course of a demanding week that ends with a trip to face Liverpool at Anfield after a midweek date against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Thomas Tuchel denied Guardiola the crowning achievement of his time at City by coming out on top in the tactical battle as the Blues won the Champions League final in May.
Victory in Porto completed a hat-trick of wins for Chelsea over City towards the end of last season that set the foundations for a tilt at the Premier League for the Stamford Bridge side.
Another victory this weekend would mean Tuchel would become the first manager to ever beat Guardiola in four consecutive games.
The German’s near-flawless start to life in English football has continued in the early weeks of this season.
– Lukaku factor –
Chelsea have taken 13 points from a possible 15 despite tough away games so far against Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham.
Crucially, Tuchel got what Guardiola did not in the transfer window — a proven goalscorer.
Romelu Lukaku, who joined from Inter Milan, already has four goals in all competitions since returning to Stamford Bridge for a club-record £97.5 million ($134 million).
City spent even more in making Jack Grealish the first-ever £100 million Premier League player.
But the England international only added to an array of creative talents at Guardiola’s disposal rather than addressing the need for a successor to Sergio Aguero.
City’s pursuit of Harry Kane failed, with Tottenham unwilling to sell and interest in Cristiano Ronaldo ended with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner returning to the red half of Manchester with United.
Without a proven number nine, it has been feast or famine in front of goal for City this season.
They hit five past Norwich and Arsenal, going one better against Leipzig in their Champions League opener and when Wycombe visited the Etihad in the League Cup in midweek.
But they failed to score when it mattered against Southampton and in a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham in their opening league game of the campaign.
There is potential help at hand with the return of injured pair Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, both of whom scored against Wycombe.
Last season City could afford a slow start, winning just five of their opening 12 league games.
Back then Chelsea were in the final few months of Frank Lampard’s underwhelming spell in charge, Liverpool were ravaged by injuries and United did not have Ronaldo.
Failure to snap their losing run against Tuchel’s Chelsea and to win at Anfield, where City have not triumphed in front of a crowd since 2003, would leave the champions worryingly adrift.