By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/November 5, 2017
This is our last assignment before the last international break of the year and it couldn’t possibly be bigger than Mourinho bringing his team to Stamford Bridge for the third time as Manchester United manager. The defeat in Rome in midweek, and the manner of it, means our players must show some kind of reaction against United on Sunday. With Atletico Madrid failing to beat Qarabag the damage after the defeat to Roma on Tuesday was minimal and we’re still with an healthy chance of qualifying from the group but topping that group is out of our hands as it’ll depend on the result in the Atletico against Roma match. But on the home front, it’s very essential for us to do everything we can to make sure we get the result against Mourinho’s team for the third time in a row at Stamford Bridge. The match on Sunday will also bring Nemanja Matic back to Stamford Bridge for the first time as an opposition player. I’m sure the Blues’ faithful will give him the reception his meritorious service to Chelsea over the years deserves.
Antonio Conte will be looking to inflict a third successive defeat on Mourinho’s team at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea welcomes Manchester United to West London on Sunday evening. There’s certainly no love lost between these two big names over the years. These two have locked horns a combined 177 times with Manchester having 76 wins and losing 52 with the remaining 49 matches ending in stalemates. These two teams have faced off in every competition you can think of and that’s what makes the rivalry so intense. Chelsea has lost just one of the last 10 encounters with Manchester United (W5 D4) with that solitary defeat coming last April when Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera puts us to the sword. In the Premier League era, Chelsea and United have faced off 50 times sharing the head to head with 17 victories (L14 D19). The last time Manchester United won a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge was in October 2012 in a match where we had both Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres sent off, the Spaniard’s sending off an error from Mark Clattenburg, and then losing to an off side goal scored late on by Javier Hernandez during Roberto Di Matteo’s short stint in charge of Chelsea in 2012. Since that win, United has lost six (D1) of their seven visits to Stamford Bridge. Mourinho knows it’s a daunting task in front of his team on Sunday with United leaving Stamford Bridge empty handed in the league in their last three visits to SW6 and winning just once in the last fifteen.
Antonio Conte needs a massive overhaul in the attitude of his players if he wants to get a positive result from the match on Sunday because on the basis of our performance in Rome on Tuesday, we won’t be up to scratch against Mourinho’s team. With the way the match in Rome played out, and with Victor Moses still out injured, Zappacosta might be an important asset for Antonio Conte with his pace and industry on the flanks and he’s well rested too should Conte call on his country man. Marcos Alonso had an average showing on Tuesday, as did majority of the team, but he should still be in the starting lineup against United. Antonio Conte said in his press conference that he won’t risk N’Golo Kante on Sunday if he’s not ready to play in order not to lose him for longer hence he might again have to rely on the duo of Bakayoko and Fabregas, who’s beginning to show signs of fatigue if his display in Rome earlier in the week is an indication. Conte stated pretty clearly that Cahill will start on Sunday but we’ll have to wait and see who gives way for the captain. Antonio Rudiger, for some unknown reasons, had a pretty poor return to his former stomping ground on Tuesday and even caused the team a goal but other than that odd performance he’s been as good as anyone in the defense and will not be judged by his performance in Rome. Danny Drinkwater is surely an option in midfield, either in place of a tiring Fabregas or alongside the Spaniard. Another player who failed to live up to expectation was Alvaro Morata who had such a dismal outing summed up by his point blank miss but I’ll be surprised if he’s not leading the line for us on Sunday even though Michy Batshuayi has proven to be a reliable deputy in recent weeks. The Spaniard is more suited to the way Conte wants his team to play so should start on Sunday even if he, along with the rest of the team, did not cover himself in glory in midweek. Antonio Conte will be looking for a reaction from his players on Sunday after what he called a ‘bad’ performance against Roma on Tuesday, but more importantly a win against United on Sunday brings us to within one point of Jose Mourinho’s team, and I’m sure Conte will be going for those three points. I’m sure he just can’t wait to have Kante back but as much as the team needs the Frenchman we need to tread with caution if this game comes too early for him.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Cahill; Zappacosta, Luiz, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: LWWWD
Injuries: Victor Moses (Hamstring) – Out; N’Golo Kante (Hamstring) –Doubt;
Mourinho will know now is as good a time as any to play Chelsea with the team’s shaky confidence after the defeat at the hands of Roma in midweek but he will also know better than anyone you cannot underestimate Chelsea and will surely have passed that on to his players. Mourinho has not won an away game against the top six since he joined United and has already played out an uninspiring draw against Liverpool this season and will likely continue with his overly defensive approach against Chelsea on Sunday but with Arsenal and Man City facing off in the early kick off on Sunday he might be forced to readjust his team if Arsene Wenger’s team are able to take points off Guardiola’s men. It’ll always be safety first for Mourinho so I’m not expecting his team to be expansive with them looking to catch us on the counter. Eric Bailey and Phil Jones should continue their partnership in central defense in London flanked by Antonio Valencia and Mateo Darmian, who will be preferred to the industrious Ashley Young because of his defensive qualities. Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera have dominated the midfield for Mourinho in recent games with both Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba out injured and the pair will have the unenviable task of stopping Chelsea from dominating the midfield. Against Liverpool, Mourinho put out a team that has an attacking look to it but still mustered just one shot on target over the course of the 90 minutes with all four of their attacking players Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford and Lukaku being asked to track back and help defend in typical Mourinho style and that should again be the theme on Sunday. Ander Herrera did a stellar job of man-marking Eden Hazard in the 2-0 win over Chelsea in April but Mourinho will have to draft in an extra midfielder, or play one of his defenders in midfield, should he decide to try that trick again in order not to be overrun in midfield on Sunday. Romelu Lukaku has now gone four games without a goal in the Premier League and that sequence is likely to continue on Sunday unless Mourinho decides to surprise everybody and go all out at Stamford Bridge in the same way he did at the Etihad against Man City in February 2014 when he was still Chelsea manager, which is highly unlikely considering how pragmatic Mourinho is.
De Gea; Valencia, Bailey, Jones, Darmian; Matic, Herrera; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Lukaku.
Last 5 matches: WWWWW
Injuries: Paul Pogba (Hamstring) –Doubt; Marouane Fellaini (Knee) –Out; Marcus Rojo (Knee) –Out; Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Knee) –Out; Micheal Carrick (Calf) –Doubt;
Eden Hazard vs. Antonio Valencia
Hazard has come against the energetic Valencia before but the United captain, in the continued absence of Carrick, is likely to be coming up against a wounded animal in the Belgian who will be looking to have a good game after the team’s poor showing in Rome in midweek.
Davide Zappacosta vs. Marcus Rashford
Rashford’s greatest asset is his blistering speed and he has used it to cause the Blues some troubles in the past but in Zappacosta he has someone who can match him stride for stride and who can put his defensive qualities to the test with his bursting runs on the overlap. Can’t wait to see how this duel develops.
Tiemoue Bakayoko vs. Nemanja Matic
Both gigantic midfielders will be looking to gain control of the midfield for their respective teams in this battle of predecessor vs. successor. Bakayoko hasn’t quite lived up to expectations as yet but Sunday will be a good time to start and who better against than the man you were brought in to replace. Just can’t for kick-off!
With Manchester City hosting Arsenal in the early kick-off on Sunday, this game may take on extra significance by kick-off if, as expected, City beat Arsenal to extend the lead at the top to eight and twelve respectively meaning neither United nor Chelsea can then afford a loss and even a draw might not be good enough for the Blues. What Antonio Conte will be on the lookout for on Sunday will be a reaction from his players after the way they lost to Roma in the Champions’ League in midweek but that’s not to say he won’t want the three points on offer. The result in the corresponding fixture last season, a 4-0 win for Chelsea, will still be playing on the mind of Mourinho surely and might force him to lock up shop on Sunday. Antonio Conte would surely have told his players they have to improve their chances conversion rate after their profligacy in front of goal cost them in Italy and in the same vein he’d have told his defenders to keep their focus for the duration of the game after two errors leading directly to a goal in midweek. Until you hear from me again after the international break, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High and good luck to the team on Sunday!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Sky Sports
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