It’s a truly blockbuster Sunday this weekend – as second-placed Manchester United welcome fourth-placed Chelsea to Old Trafford as bitter rivals Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte come face to face after waging a war of words in the weeks leading up to this game.
Manchester United are in a tricky period in the season. Having come off Sevilla with a 0-0, United have given themselves the onerous 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 including the seemingly strained relationship between the Portuguese and midfielder Paul Pogba who started on the bench in midweek.
However, United cannot afford to lose on Sunday as a defeat could most definitively drag them down to a scrap for fourth. The Red Devils have sat comfortably second in the league for so long but with games coming in thick and fast, United need to find a way to up their gear and sustain that level on a more consistent basis, to be where they want to be, come the end of the season.
With Manchester City coming up next, this is a window where Chelsea simply cannot lose. The Blues are fourth in the league with 53 points on board and 3 points on Sunday would be a big boost for Conte’s side going into the final phase of the campaign.
They will make the trip after an excellent performance and result against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge and the spirit despite the glaring inconsistencies within the side – will be high in West London. Having lost this game last season, the Italian will be looking to get one over his adversary in the weekend – and what better time to inflict a defeat on the Red Devils than now – when both sides with similar ambitions converge at a crunch time of the year.
For the home side, the big injury news is the absence of Ander Herrera who, according to Jose Mourinho, will be out for “a few weeks” after the midfielder sustained a recurrence of a muscle injury early on in midweek. Center-half Eric Bailly could also make his 50th appearance for the club and his first start since November.
For Chelsea, defender David Luiz and midfield duo Ross Barkley and Tiemoue Bakayoko are out of Sunday’s game but striker Alvaro Morata is available again.
Chelsea are aiming to do the double over Man Utd for the fourth time in the Premier League and the first time since 2009/10 (also 2004/05 and 1993/94).
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has won three of his four meetings in all competitions against Jose 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 the big criticism levelled at him is down to the fact that none of those 21 has come against the rest of the ‘Big Six’ this season. In fact, the 24-year old has only managed 4 shots on target in games against these sides and 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 minute one, never really giving the eventual champions a chance to get a foothold on the game which is exactly what they will need to do on Sunday – if they were to get all 3 points.
Willian – Chelsea
Having scored 3 goals in the last 2 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. His pace on and off the ball and a relentless work ethic to cover every blade of grass makes him a huge threat for Red Devils in a game that could be decided by fatigue and fitness if anything.
He hit the woodwork twice in the first half before scoring with a brilliant low finish against the five-time European champions and the Reds defence will have to be alert to ensure he doesn’t score against United for the first time on Sunday.
United have in recent years suffered poor results against the Blues so much so 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.
Manchester United 1-0 Chelsea