Chelsea and Man City, entering new eras under Conte and Guardiola, will hope normal service resumes

Greg Lea looks at the disappointing seasons endured by Chelsea and Manchester City ahead of their Premier League meeting at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Chelsea have endured a disastrous defence of their Premier League title this season. Hannah McKay / Reuters
Chelsea have endured a disastrous defence of their Premier League title this season. Hannah McKay / Reuters

Money cannot buy you happiness, as the adage goes, and it is seemingly not enough to guarantee success in the Premier League either.

Barring a miracle at Arsenal, either Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur — neither a financial powerhouse relative to their domestic competitors — will win the title this season.

Big-spending Manchester United look set to miss out on the top four despite spending £108 million (Dh562m) on new signings last summer, while Newcastle United are staring relegation in the face after substantial outlay in both transfer windows.

Chelsea and Manchester City, meanwhile, have long since fallen out of the title race and could end the season with a solitary League Cup between them.

The Premier League’s two nouveau-riche clubs, who meet at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, have both fallen short this year, and while City still have a chance of winning the Uefa Champions League, this has been a campaign of underperformance for the pair in the top flight.

Having finished top of the pile with such ease last season, Chelsea’s collapse in the first half of 2015/16 was extraordinary.

The champions got off to a bad start with an opening-day draw against Swansea City and a 3-0 loss to upcoming opponents City, but no-one expected Chelsea to be hovering above the relegation zone at the midway point of the campaign.

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Defeats to Crystal Palace, Everton, Southampton, West Ham United, Liverpool, Stoke City, Bournemouth and Leicester City ultimately led to the sacking of Jose Mourinho, who departed with tales of acrimony, player unrest and internal conflict swirling around him.

Guus Hiddink has steadied the ship since then, losing only one of his 15 Premier League games in charge, but 10th-placed Chelsea nevertheless look set to finish in their lowest league position in two decades.

City have not plumbed the same depths, but have also been guilty of underachievement in the Premier League.

The strongest and most expensively-assembled squad in the division are 15 points off top spot with six matches left to play. Although City have done well in the Champions League, they have not yet made sure of their place in next season’s edition of the tournament by wrapping up a top-four spot.

It certainly feels as if both clubs are at a crossroads at present, with new chapters in their development to be opened next season.

Chelsea have gone through nine different managers in the Roman Abramovich era, with four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, one Champions League and one Europa League added to the trophy cabinet despite the constant state of flux.

The fact that they have hit rock bottom this term suggests that significant change could be on the way, however, with incoming manager Antonio Conte likely to want things done his way at Stamford Bridge. As they bid goodbye to the current campaign, Chelsea have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and provide a definitive answer to the ‘what type of club do we want to be’ question.

City have shown a little more faith in their managers since the Abu Dhabi United Group’s takeover in 2008 — winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups along the way — but they too seem to be embarking upon a seminal stage this summer.

Pep Guardiola, a long-term target for the club, will replace Manuel Pellegrini ahead of the 2016/17 season, while multiple members of the Premier League’s second-oldest squad could be let go as the Catalan seeks to assemble a group he considers capable of playing the type of football he espouses.

Given their current situations, the pair’s meeting at Stamford Bridge this weekend is not of the same immediate importance as other clashes they have contested in recent years.

As both clubs stand at the crossroads, Chelsea and City will be hoping that normal service will have been resumed by this point in 2017.

Norwich can give promoted clubs hope

Norwich City’s clash with Sunderland on Saturday afternoon is the definition of a relegation six-pointer.

Victories over fellow strugglers at this stage of the season are significant in both increasing your club’s point tally and preventing your competitors from adding anything to theirs. Were Norwich to get the better of Sam Allardyce’s side at Carrow Road, they would move seven points ahead of their chief relegation rivals with just a month of the campaign remaining.

Alex Neil’s side looked dead and buried a few weeks ago, but a draw with Manchester City and wins over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United have put them in an excellent position to reach the magical 40-point mark.

If Norwich do go on to finish outside the bottom three, 2015/16 would be only the third season in the last 24 where all three promoted clubs have avoided the drop (the other instances being 2001/02, when Fulham, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers stayed up, and 2011/12, which saw Norwich, Queens Park Rangers and Swansea City extend their stay in the top flight).

It is too early to tell whether survival for Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich this year would be a sign of things to come or an exception that proves the rule that emphasises the sizeable gap between the top two tiers of the English game.

It has previously been surmised that the ever-increasing wealth of Premier League clubs will make it tougher for promoted sides to successfully negotiate the threat of relegation, but this season’s newcomers have shown that astute recruitment, bright coaching and a strong team spirit can help bridge the gap.

If Norwich can join Watford and Bournemouth in securing their Premier League status, it would give great hope to the clubs fighting for promotion in the division below.

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Published: April 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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