United travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday missing some key men
Since the arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Premier League games between these two clubs in the capital have tended to go one way. Manchester United’s record since 2003, when the money came in for The Blues, has featured just two wins from seventeen attempts at Stamford Bridge.
Thankfully, one of those wins came last season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Plus there was a bonus win in the Carabao Cup. In fact, Solskjaer hasn’t been defeated away to Chelsea since becoming manager. That’s a good omen in an historically tricky fixture. Things are different on this occasion, though. After seemingly having Frank Lampard’s number in his time as boss, United’s own club-legend manager now has the recently-appointed Thomas Tuchel to contend with.
But hey, there’s more good news there. The away record against his sides ain’t bad either! *Drifts back to the nights in Paris*.
In all seriousness, the prospects for Chelsea’s season are back on the up. That may arguably have been the case be it Lampard or Tuchel in charge given the tight nature of the league table, but still, they are gaining on United and Leicester City. After another weekend seeing Manchester City do the business and win their game, the three aforementioned clubs are probably fighting it out to be best of the rest now, along with securing Champions League places.
The six point buffer that the Reds built up on Sunday’s opponents last weekend with the win against Newcastle United could prove useful in the next week or so. Avoiding defeat down in London keeps United in a decent position, with Leicester facing a potentially tricky task in the shape of Arsenal. It could be a weekend in which the status quo is maintained in terms of league standings.
We’ve seen a few youngsters like Shola Shoretire given minutes in recent games which maybe underlines the fitness situation at the moment; if United are to get something from this game, they’ll once again have the depth of the squad to thank for it. Solskjaer has been quite fortunate (or skilled) in avoiding injuries in the main so far but a few have accumulated in recent weeks. An injury to Paul Pogba hurts almost any team, but add in Edinson Cavani, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek, as has been the case the last two weeks, and the picture starts to look a bit bleaker, particularly in the middle of the park.
The upshot this weekend is that Van de Beek is in line to return, at least to the match day squad. That would provide much-needed support to Fred and Nemanja Matic who have been holding the fort for the last couple of games. There’s a sense that a third game in eight days utilising that pairing would be a bridge too far, especially given the size of the game. You would have to assume that McTominay would’ve lined up alongside Fred in the middle had he been fit, but Solskjaer will likely have to decide between using Matic again, throwing Van de Beek back in or even utilising Axel Tuanzebe after his stint there on Thursday.
Looking forward, we were told not to expect to see Cavani back in action as he hadn’t trained yet by Friday, but Solskjaer could have been bluffing. Even if he was, though, most wouldn’t anticipate him starting. Daniel James has filled in well on both flanks in the last three games but he picked up a knock on Thursday which may set him back.
Form aside, Solskjaer probably has to go with three of his star men from last season in the hope that they can collectively deliver the goals again. The performances have been there recently for Mason Greenwood but the goals have been lacking generally this season. For Anthony Martial, both aspects have been an issue. Regardless, it’s likely that the pair will join Marcus Rashford in attack with Cavani either unfit or not quite ready.
The calls for Dean Henderson to get a sustained run in the Manchester United goal are growing louder but it seems unlikely to happen in the Premier League as it stands so David de Gea will almost certainly take the gloves behind Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. As ever, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly will battle it out for the other centre back berth. Most will want Bailly on recent form but I would advise those people not to get their hopes up.
With all of Chelsea’s attacking talents, a defence that has looked unsure at times will have its work cut out. Solskjaer was switching to a back three for games like this last year but now appears to trust his backline as a four and his team as a unit. It’s important that they don’t prove him to be wrong come 6pm on Sunday.
Score Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
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Chelsea vs Manchester United (Last 5 Meetings)
October 2020: Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea
July 2020: Manchester United 1-3 Chelsea
February 2020: Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United
October 2019: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United
August 2019: Manchester United 4-0 Chelsea