Antonio Conte has worked wonders at Chelsea and now he WILL overcome Pep Guardiola in his biggest test yet


I’m backing Antonio Conte to come out on top in his duel with Pep Guardiola in the first title shoot-out of the season. Yes, I know it’s too early to start handing out medals and tying one club’s colours to the Premier League trophy. But I expect Conte to get more joy out of Manchester City’s defensive uncertainty than Guardiola will get out of Chelsea’s remodelled 3-4-3 formation. There is very little to choose between the two forward lines. For star quality, you could hardly get a tissue paper between Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero on one side or Pedro, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the other. Guardiola has his own leading marksman in Aguero (Photo: REUTERS) While Conte has his own scoring ace in Diego Costa (Photo: Darren Walsh) Read More Pep Guardiola excited for first meeting with ‘world class’ Antonio Conte And there is not much difference between Fernandinho, who has been excellent for City this season, and Ilkay Gundogan or Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in midfield. So it’s going to come down to defensive discipline, organisation and reliability – and on that basis, I fancy Chelsea’s reworked back three to cope better with City’s attacking threat than the home side will keep Conte’s forwards on a short leash. The transformation Conte has worked at Chelsea since they were 3-0 down, and all over the shop, at Arsenal back in late September has been incredible. His switch to a back three has been so inspired that they have only conceded one Premier League goal in 10 weeks – Christian Eriksen’s long-range hit for Tottenham last Saturday. Conte has worked wonders with David Luiz (Photo: Chelsea FC via Getty Images) In the process, Conte has turned David Luiz from a defensive liability to an important cog in the machine. And from dark murmurs about his job security he has restored Chelsea to the top as quickly as they fell from their perch under Jose Mourinho last season. Conte’s front three have been a revelation. Hazard is back to the form that made him Footballer of the Year in 2015, and Moses has been so dynamic you wonder why on earth he spent three years out on loan at Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham. City, on the other hand, have yet to convince me the back door is firmly locked and bolted. Guardiola’s men are far from defensively sure (Photo: AFP/Getty Images) Vincent Kompany continues to be hampered by injuries (Photo: Getty) The captain, Vincent Kompany, has had terrible luck with injuries – but City have yet to settle on a defensive combination which inspires confidence in his absence. Guardiola has been a fantastic addition to English football, and some of his team’s football in the early weeks of the season was breathtaking, but at times his defence still looks fragile. Until he finds the right partner for John Stones – preferably a centre back who takes no prisoners to give City the right balance of silk and steel – Guardiola is not going to sleep easily. John Stones needs the right partner – and it hasn’t been found yet (Photo: Action Images via Reuters) City looked vulnerable against the long ball at Burnley last weekend, and they managed to scramble a win with two of the scruffiest goals imaginable. It’s a good sign that they won away from home when it was a bumpy ride, but I’m not sure Chelsea’s forwards will be so forgiving. Whatever happens at the Etihad on Sunday, I expect both City and Chelsea to be in the frame with Liverpool next May. Before a ball was kicked, I tipped Mourinho to bring the title back to Manchester United but the gap is now 11 points. I simply cannot see United winning four games at the same time as Chelsea, City and Liverpool all losing as many. poll loading Who will win the big game between these title contenders? 500+ VOTES SO FAR Manchester City Chelsea Draw

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