Match Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester United
Old Trafford/April 16, 2017
This is yet another massive hurdle that must be scaled on the road to what would be our fifth Premier League title and our sixth overall. With Spurs once again playing first, against Bournemouth in the first match of the weekend, we would know exactly what is required to either maintain our lead or increase it by the time this game kicks off at Old Trafford on Easter Sunday. Prior to this season, Jose Mourinho had only led an opposition to battle against Chelsea twice when his Inter Milan side saw off Chelsea in both legs of the Champions’ League quarter finals en route to winning the trophy back in 2010, but he and his Manchester United players have found the going tough against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea so far this season losing both matches without scoring a goal and conceding five. Make no mistake, Mourinho and his charges would be up for this one. Manchester United have not had any luck in recent times when they played against the Blues having not won any of our last twelve meetings in all competitions (L7 D5) but in this sort of games, form is thrown out the window. Our away form this season has been phenomenal while in contrast Manchester United’s home form leaves a lot more to be desired having won just six of sixteen games at the Theatre of Dreams (L1 D9). Jose Mourinho has indicated he would be naming his best possible eleven against Chelsea on Sunday, not that anyone connected to Chelsea would have expected anything less, which means we would be up against it at Old Trafford. If our last encounter is an indication, then Eden Hazard should be prepared for a torrid afternoon as a result of the close attention he’s sure to get from United’s players. Referre Bobby Madley would have to be up for it too because this could end badly for our Belgian maestro if the ref does not have control of the situation like Michael Oliver had last time out.
We now have almost a full complement of the team going into this game with the return of Victor Moses at the Vitality Stadium last Saturday. And what a return it was too. The only issue I foresee here is who gets the nod between Matic and Fabregas. As much as I appreciate what Fabregas brings to the team with his range of passes and all, I think this game is tailor-made for the Matic/Kante midfield tag team because United’s midfield would be as physical as we’re ever going to get. It would be a surprise if we lined up differently fromthe 3-4-3 formation that we’ve become so used to even though I know Mourinho would have devised his own way of stopping that from being a success. We wait to see though whether he goes the way of many other before him and try to mirror that formation or go a different way. In any case, both our wing backs and the two chosen to partner Hazard up front would be very important for us to get a positive outcome in this game.
Injuries: Terry (Knock)-Slight Doubt
Last 5 Matches: WLWWW
Mourinho surely had one eye on this fixture when he was drafting his starting eleven for their Europa League game in Belgium last night leaving the quintet of De Gea, Fellaini, Herrera , Anthony Martial, and Luke Shaw on the bench an indication all five of them should play a part at Old Trafford on Sunday. He’s likely to play the 4-3-3 he has recently turned to with both Fellaini and Herrera playing just behind Pogba at the base of midfield with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial playing either side of Zlatan in attack. Or maybe they are going to lineup in Jose’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation where Pogba would be pushed further forward behind Zlatan while Mkhitaryan and Martial occupy the wings. Both Shaw and Valencia should have their hands full containing Hazard and Pedro and that is sure to leave space for Moses and Alonso to run into.
Injuries: Phil Jones (Foot) - Out; Chris Smalling (Knee) - Out Juan Mata (Groin) - Out
Last 5 Matches: WDDWD
3 Matchups to Watch
- Costa vs. Rojo/Bailly: Diego Costa’s recent form has been nothing to write home about. It isn’t just his lack of goals but his all round play seemes to have taken a dip, but if there’s a game you can trust that he would be up for then this is it. Whoever is designated to track him is sure to have a hell of a fight on his hands, and if that happens to be Marcos Rojo then I foresee a sending off because he’s the type that never backs down from a fight which the Guv’nor is sure to bring.
- Luiz vs. Ibrahimovic: This may not be as physical as the Costa/Rojo battle as Zlatan relies more on his trickery and deft touches than his physicality but nevertheless this is going to be an intriguing matchup. David Luiz hasn’t been 100% since that horrific Sergio Aguero tackle but he seems to be managing just fine, and on Sunday afternoon I trust he would also have a point to prove to the man in the opposite dugout.
- Kante vs. Pogba: This is the second instalment of this Battle of the French (Pogba having missed the FA Cup game through injury), with Chelsea and Kante in the lead so far. With Pogba expected to play an advanced role, Kante’s job becomes even more important. Pogba is the link between United’s defence and attack, a link Kante should be on hand to disrupt on Sunday afternoon. Pogba has been known to be largely anonymous in this type of game and if that holds true on Sunday then Kante’s job would be minimal to say the least.
The fact Manchester United’s Europa League tie is still in the balance following a 1-1 draw means that Mourinho cannot afford to take his mind off that tie even though they are expected to put the Belgians to the sword next Thursday. With Conte having the whole week to prepare his charges for this game they should be ready to go and fight for another three points on the road to the title. If, as expected, Spurs beat Bournemouth at lunchtime on Saturday then this game becomes a MUST-WIN game for us because a loss would cut the gap to four points and that might bring unwanted pressure to the club. Whichever team Antonio Conte sends out on Sunday, they are going to have to be up for it because the alternative is inconceivable. Hopefully the next time you hear from me I would be able to report a positive result from this mammoth clash. Until then though, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!