Since the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003, Chelsea vs Manchester United has more often than not been a deciding game when it comes to who will win the Premier League title. Both teams enter the fixture in contrasting form. United bounced back from their loss against Huddersfield with wins at Old Trafford versus Spurs and Benfica. With Chelsea coming into the game, perhaps still dwelling over their 3-0 mauling away in Rome. With some already saying Chelsea are out of the race and United at risk of losing ground on runaway leaders Manchester City, will there be a winner?
At Stamford Bridge, previous meetings between the two clubs have been one sided to say the least. In fact, Manchester United have only won 5 games away versus Chelsea in the history of the Premier League. The last being a 3-2 victory in 2012, with goals from Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez. Goals have been hard to come by for the United in this fixture, scoring only 3 in the last 6 meetings with Abramovich’s men.
United enter the contest in formidable form, having been unbeaten in 35 or their last 38 league games. Although this statistic is padded with it’s fair share of draws, it shows Jose Mourinho has really begun to leave his mark on this team.Embed from Getty Images
In contrast to their title winning season in 2016/17 – Including their 3 month, 13 match winning streak – Chelsea have already dropped 11 points. Surprise losses to Burnley and Crystal Palace have added to the already ambivalent feeling surrounding the blues. Current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has claimed the club’s poor transfer window could be to blame for their mediocre start.
“For me, it will be the most difficult season of my career,”
“We need more players, not top level like Neymar but more players to improve our squad and our quality.” – Chelsea boss, Antonio Conte
Both managers have previous with abrasive encounters. Last season’s 4-0 drubbing of United ended with Mourinho having a heated discussion with Conte. Jose seemingly took exception to the way his counterpart chose to provoke the Chelsea support.Embed from Getty Images
The next war of words began early, with Mourinho instigating proceedings. The United boss claimed some Premier League managers “cried” over injuries, on the surface a veiled dig at Conte. The Italian took the bait, replying “A lot of time Mourinho has to see what happens at Chelsea. A lot of the time, also last season. I think he has to think about his team and stop… to look at himself, not the others.” – you wouldn’t want to be the fourth official in this one.
How will the sides set up?
The Blues have been without N’golo Kante since he suffered a hamstring injury whilst playing for France in early October. In that time Chelsea have struggled, winning only half of their games in his absence. The two time Premier League winner returned to training early last week and is expected to start in Sunday’s clash at the Bridge.
Kante’s inclusion allows his manager more options in terms of personnel and tactics. Conte now has the option to start a three man midfield, often his preferred choice when it comes to bigger games. This gives Chelsea more stability in central areas and allows their midfield to press in the opposition’s half. The coercion implemented on the opposition ball carrier gives the Chelsea back three the opportunity to play a higher line, meaning there will be less ground for the rest of the team to cover during ball recovery.
When it comes to his selection of players in the back three this season, Conte has often rotated. In fact, the Italian has only selected the same back three for consecutive games once in all competitions this season. After Chelsea’s poor defensive display midweek against Roma, you wouldn’t bet against the Ex-Juventus manager switching it up again.
Predicted Line up:
Victor Moses’s injury leaves Conte with a decision to make. Summer arrival Davide Zappacosta has only started one Premier League game thus far, suggesting his manager may lean toward vice-captain Cesar Azpilicueta in the right wing back role.
Like their most recent performance in the league against Spurs, Manchester United will most likely match the opposition’s formation. Mourinho’s uses the positional similarities to create a man-to-man approach during the defensive transition.
To learn more about this tactical preference, why not read our tactical analysis on Manchester United vs Spurs
United have been in a similar situation in terms of injuries, to Chelsea. With players such as Paul Pogba, Maroune Fellaini, Marcus Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all spending prolonged amounts of time on the treatment table. Rumours have been circulating throughout the week of a return for Pogba. The frenchman has reportedly been spotted training with the United under 23’s, triggering reports of a possible start on Sunday.
Predicted line up:
After a solid performance against Tottenham the week before, a similar starting squad is to be expected. With Pogba only just returning to training, it is hard to see Mourinho including him from the off. An encouraging performance midweek could put Scott Mctominay in good stead to receive a surprise start. But with Mourinho tending to favour reliable experience over youthful exuberance, the United youngster may have to be patient for now.
What will the opposition look to take advantage of?
After a poor defensive display in the Champions League, one would expect a solid disciplined performance for Conte’s side. Their aim will be to reduce space in central areas whilst engaging opposition players higher on the pitch.Embed from Getty Images
A worry in using this tactic is Chelsea’s tackling ability. Although the blues are successfully completing almost 73% of their tackles, the area of concern arrives when they are unsuccessful. Conte’s men are averaging 12 fouls per game, the third most in the league. As well as this offering a direct route to goal for the opposition through the resulting set piece, it runs the risk of the referee cautioning any offenders. Chelsea have received 3 red cards in 5 home Premier League games this season, a problem Conte could do without.
The consequential free kicks could also be a cause for concern. Chelsea are currently ranked 18th in the league for aerial duels won and have so far conceded 2 set piece goals in 5 home league matches. Antonio Conte will want to be clear when expressing a need for discipline, especially whilst pressing the opposition.
Manchester United have shown great stability so far this season, only conceding 4 goals in 10 league games. However, all 4 of these goals have come on their travels. There is a contrast between their performances at Old Trafford and their performances on the road, in terms of goals conceded. In fact, the United number one David De Gea hasn’t conceded a goal at Old Trafford in over 6 months. Mistakes by particular players have been the major contributor to the goals that United have relinquished this season. The most memorable possibly being the missed header by summer signing Victor Lindelof vs Huddersfield. Even though Chelsea can’t guarantee an individual error will occur, the probable pressure they will apply could make a mistake more likely if not certain.Embed from Getty Images
Another possible avenue for the blues to exploit could be United’s passing ability. The 13 time Premier League winners are currently averaging a 83.4% pass accuracy, the fourth highest in the league. However, when the reds play against one of their top 6 rivals, their ability on the ball takes a dip. Matches against Liverpool and Tottenham have seen the Salford team produce figures of 74% and 69% respectively. Although their failed passes have tended to be more direct, it again reiterates how important Chelsea’s pressing will be in this fixture.
The result at the Etihad will unquestionably have an effect on the mindset of both managers, and with Mourinho and Conte already locking horns it may be a difficult day for the officials. This fixture may not end up deciding who wins the title, but in the current climate it may leave either side with too much to do. Who is in the title race and who isn’t? We could find out on Sunday evening.