It’s a truly blockbuster Sunday as second-placed Manchester United welcome fourth-placed Chelsea to Old Trafford. Bitter rivals José Mourinho and Antonio Conte come face-to-face after waging a war of words in the weeks preceding this game.
Manchester United are in a tricky period. Having come off Sevilla with a 0-0, the Red Devils have the burdensome task of overcoming the Spanish side next week to progress in the competition—with no away goal advantage as insurance.
Mourinho’s side has suffered a few key injuries in recent weeks and there have been issues off the pitch. Dominating the headlines has been the seemingly strained relationship between the Portuguese and midfielder Paul Pogba, who started on the bench in midweek.
That being said, United cannot afford to lose this game, as a defeat could most definitively drag them down to a scrap for fourth. Although the Red Devils have retained their second in the league position rather comfortably (for quite some time), with games coming thick and fast, they need to change gears. They will also need to maintain that high gear consistently to be where they want to be by the end of the season.
For Chelsea, on the other hand, this is a window of opportunity which they simply cannot lose—especially with Manchester City coming up next. The Blues are fourth in the league with 53 points on the board. Three points on Sunday would be a big boost for Conte’s side going into the final phase of the campaign.
Chelsea arrive at Old Trafford having performed superbly against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Spirits will be high in West London—despite the glaring inconsistencies within the side. Having lost this game last season, the Italian will be looking to get one over his adversary. And what better time to inflict a defeat on the Red Devils than now? This will be a match of two sides with similar ambitions converging at a crunch time of the year.
Manchester United: For the home side, Ander Herrera will be out for “a few weeks,” according to José Mourinho. The midfielder sustained a repeat muscle injury early midweek. Centre-half Eric Bailly could make his 50th appearance for the club—and his first start since November.
Chelsea F.C.: Defender David Luiz, and midfield-duo Ross Barkley and Tiémoué Bakayokoare will be absent, but striker Álvaro Morata is available again.
Chelsea are aiming to do a double over Man Utd for the fourth time in the Premier League and the first time since 2009–10 (they also did it in 2004–05 and 1993–94).
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has won three of his four meetings (in all competitions) against José Mourinho (W3 L1).
History shows the Reds are leading the head-to-head record comfortably, with 73 wins to Chelsea’s 52 from 178 meetings.
United have kept a total of 23 clean sheets overall this season, which is three more than any other Premier League team.
Romelu Lukaku—Manchester United
The Belgian has netted 21 goals this season, but hefty criticism leveled at him suggests that none of those goals were scored against the season’s ‘Big Six.’ In reality, the 24-year-old has only managed four shots on target in games against these sides. While this adds weight to some of the preconceived notions about Romelu Lukaku, it also suggests the issue is more systemic than we think it is.
Manchester United won this fixture last season, when they attacked from kick-off, never really giving the eventual champions a chance to get a foothold in the game. This is exactly what they will need to do today if they are to get all three points.
Having scored three goals in the last two games, Willian is in fine form heading into his 10th match against United. The Brazilian put in an exceptional performance on Tuesday night, using his pace and strength against Barcelona. He hit the woodwork twice in the first half before scoring with a brilliant low finish against the five-time European champions. In fact, his pace on and off the ball, and his relentless work ethic (he covers every blade of grass) make him a huge threat for the Red Devils. This is especially true in a game that could be decided by fatigue versus fitness if anything. The Red Devils’ defense will have to be on high alert to ensure he doesn’t score for the first time on Sunday.
In recent years, United have suffered poor results against the Blues. So much so, in fact, that they have won only one of their last 14 matches in all competitions against Chelsea (D5 L8). Yet, that one win came less than a year ago. Expect a close contest.