Biggest test perhaps for Sarri, as stuttering Chelsea host Manchester City

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It has taken less than two weeks for the optimism generated by a 12-match unbeaten start to Maurizio Sarri’s reign at Stamford Bridge to fizzle out.

This weekend the Italian faces his biggest test to date when Manchester City visit.

In fairness to the former Napoli manager, he stressed throughout the heady days of early Autumn that Chelsea were not equipped to challenge Manchester City for the title.

Now, ahead of Saturday’s clash between the sides, a 10-point gap has opened up.

On Tuesday, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City maintained a searing pace at the top with a 2-1 win against Watford.

Twenty four hours later, Chelsea went down 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers — their second defeat in three English Premier League games.

Sarri said his side had only played well for 55 minutes at Wolves.

He added that he knows they will have to be at full tilt for 90 minutes on Saturday if they are to have any chance of halting the Manchester City juggernaut.

He said he expects a “big reaction” on Saturday.

But he already appears to have settled for a top-four scrap along with London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, rather than chasing down Liverpool and champions Manchester City.

“Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four,” Sarri said after the setback at Wolves.

“City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world. They can win the UEFA Champions League.”

Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool, who like Manchester City are unbeaten, started without Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Burnley on Wednesday but still won 3-1.

With a huge `must-win’ UEFA Champions League game coming up next week against Napoli, Klopp may well gamble on squad rotation as they travel to seventh-placed Bournemouth for Saturday’s early kick-off.

Victory for Liverpool would take them top, at least until Manchester City’s later clash with Chelsea.

Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur will also have a massive UEFA Champions League night on their minds when they travel to Leicester City on Saturday evening.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino will be less than pleased that his side kickoff at 1945 GMT with a trip to FC Barcelona following on Tuesday.

It was a game Tottenham will almost certainly have to win to reach the last 16 of the tournament.

Fifth-placed Arsenal have no such concerns as they host Huddersfield Town on Saturday looking to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to 21 matches.

Manchester United, who are 18 points behind leaders Manchester City and eight adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea after three successive draws, are at home to bottom club Fulham.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has made 46 changes to his starting line-up already this season and all eyes will be on his selection again.

He comes face to face with the original “tinkerman” Claudio Ranieri, now at the helm at Fulham.

Mourinho left record signing Paul Pogba on the bench for Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal and also started without Romelu Lukaku.

But goalscorer Anthony Martial picked up an injury against Arsenal and is a major doubt to face Fulham.

Also on Saturday, Burnley host Brighton and Hove Albion while new Southampton boss manager Ralph Hasenhuttl will be in the dugout for the first time.

His side take on fellow strugglers Cardiff City.

West Ham United will be seeking a third consecutive win when they host Crystal Palace in a London derby.

Match Day 16 Fixtures

Bournemouth vs Liverpool

Arsenal vs Huddersfield

Burnley vs Brighton

Cardiff vs Southampton

Manchester United vs Fulham

West Ham vs Crystal Palace

Chelsea vs Manchester City

Leicester vs Tottenham

Newcastle United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

Everton vs Watford

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