Blues to test City progress

When Chelsea met Manchester City in only the fourth game of the season, the match was played against a backdrop of speculation surrounding the latter's prospects of upsetting the established order and breaking into the top four. Then, City had just pulled off the audacious coup of snatching Real Madrid's Robinho from under the Blues' noses, confirming that the Eastlands outfit had supplanted their opponents as the Premier League's big spenders following the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group.

However, the subsequent 3-1 reverse inflicted by Chelsea only confirmed the yawning chasm between City and a side harbouring hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. Nothing has happened to the two clubs in the intervening six months to suggest that the gap has been narrowed ahead of their meeting this weekend at Stamford Bridge.

Guus Hiddink's restoration job in West London has gathered pace, and the Dutch manager goes into this game having won five and drawn one of his six matches in charge. That one blemish on his record came in Turin this week, when Chelsea were held 2-2 by Juventus in the first knockout round of the Champions League. Yet it proved to be just enough to ensure Chelsea joined Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in the quarter-finals, having won the first leg 1-0 at home.

A few days earlier, victory at Championship club Coventry City set up an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal or Hull City, while a succession of single-goal league victories have maintained the London side's interest in the Premier League title race. The Dutchman has been adamant from day one that Chelsea's only hope of catching Manchester United has been to win all their remaining league games, and hope that the runaway leaders slip up.

Chelsea have kept their part of the bargain but, unfortunately for Hiddink and his players, Sir Alex Ferguson's reigning champions have refused to play ball, and the Blues manager admitted Liverpool's visit to face United at Old Trafford, 24 hours before his own side's meeting with City, was their final hope of a stumble.

If Liverpool can do some harm then great because it will make for a more exciting end to the season.
Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink hopes Liverpool can defeat Premier League leaders Manchester United

"If Liverpool can do some harm then great because it will make for a more exciting end to the season," said Hiddink. "But United look very determined. "When I said we could win the league we were on schedule at that time, but United have not made any mistakes since and neither have we but until it is impossible then we will fight."

City targets
Facing Chelsea will be a City side that quickly discovered the addition of a high-profile signing like Robinho does not bring immediate success, although the recruitment of former Blues fringe players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wayne Bridge has at least added consistency to their side. Manager Mark Hughes has always publically maintained he is happy to have Robinho on board, but privately he is believed to have grown frustrated at the Brazilian's failure to perform away from home.

Hughes's main priority this summer is to strengthen the spine of the team, with Chelsea skipper John Terry figuring high on his wish-list following a failed approach for the England defender at the turn of the year. City received a further knock-back from Valancia's David Villa this week but their primary concern rests with the current campaign, and attempt to finish in the top seven and to end the club's 33-year wait for a trophy in the UEFA Cup.

With Craig Bellamy, Nigel De Jong and Vincent Kompany all missing at Stamford Bridge, City could well receive another painful lesson in the difference between money and footballing wealth.