Old Trafford, Manchester
28th December, Monday; 1730 GMT
Little did we know when the fixture list was announced back in June that this one would take place in such extraordinary circumstances.
Back then, Chelsea had just been crowned champions under Jose Mourinho and were all gung-ho about the season to come. Manchester United too were happy that Louis van Gaal, after his first season in charge, had managed to guide them back into the top four and a season they could finally look forward to.
As it turns out, this is far from a top-of-the-table clash. It is more a survival-of-the-fittest kind of contest. In the jungle that is the Premier League, leader of the Blue tribe has already been sacrificed while the proverbial axe is dangerously close to the Red tribea s leader. These are two teams that are grossly out of form, two teams that need a win and two teams that have looked clueless for most part of the season.
A lot has already been written and spoken about Van Gaala s position as United boss and many are seeing this as his final chance. A result along with a good performance will ease the pressure to some extent, while a loss could mean unemployment for the Dutchman. On the other hand, another Dutchman who recently took on the reins at Stamford Bridge saw his side fight for a point against high-flying Watford and some semblance of a performance. An away draw will be good enough for the club from London but it just might not be enough for their hostsa boss.
Team news and tactics
In what could be his final press conference as manager, Van Gaal confirmed that he had no new injury concerns and that everyone is available for selection. Matteo Darmian, who has been sidelined with a hamstring problem recently, should also be available.
Wayne Rooney played only 45 minutes on Boxing Day against Stoke City and could be expected to return to the starting eleven. United looked much more of a threat when Englanda s leading scorer came on at halftime, but he could again be seen in a deeper role in midfield. This could mean a drop to the bench for Marouane Fellaini who couldna t impress in a number 10 role in the last match. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera could start again in a 2-man defensive midfield position with the 4-man defence behind them. Memphis Depay was at fault for one of Stokea s goals but may be retained in his usual left wing role.
Although Van Gaal has tinkered with his formations for long now, he has settled into a 4-2-3-1 formation. It has not worked for him in the recent past and he could just go for an attacking formation by dropping one of the defensive options. It could mean a role further up front for Herrera while Carrick keeps his position. Essentially, it could be a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-1-3-2 while attacking with Rooney as one of the 2 strikers.
In a match such as this, all talk of tactics and gameplan could go out of the window pretty soon. It could come down to the players playing their natural style and being given the freedom to roam around the pitch. If that does happen, United have plenty of big stars who could put their hand up and be counted.
Probable lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea(GK), Blind, Smalling, Jones, Young; Herrera, Carrick; Depay, Rooney, Mata; Martial
When Diego Costa picked up a yellow card in the game against Watford on Boxing Day, it meant that he would miss the big game on Monday. His striking partner Falcao could also be expected to sit this one out with an injury. Apart from the two, everyone should be fit and available for selection.
Given that their last game was only two days ago, there could be changes expected in the starting eleven. Cesc Fabregas was withdrawn at half time against Watford, which means he could start this match in a deep-seated midfield role alongside Nemanja Matic in front of the 4-man defence. Eden Hazard is expected to come straight back into the team in place of Pedro, while Oscar and Willian could partner him in attack. In the absence of Costa, Loic Remy will lead the line in attack.
Mourinho liked playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation and it looks like Hiddink is going to continue with it. The absence of Costa could turn out to be a major blow after the Spaniarda s two-goal return against Watford. His suspension has come at the wrong time for him and his team, as he finally seemed to have found his scoring boots on Saturday. The yellow card was unnecessary and could prove to be costly in the long run for his team.
Probable lineup (4-2-3-1): Courtois (GK), Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Remy
Player to watch out for
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
It has been 27 matches since the diminutive Belgian last scored a goal but if there is a perfect time and place to break that drought, it is at Old Trafford. He has been a shadow of himself from last season, but great things are expected of him every time he touches the ball. This could be the performance that could turn his season around, just in time for his new boss and his own future at the club.
- The last 3 fixtures at Old Trafford between these two teams have resulted in a total of only 3 goals scored
- This is the lowest points tally that United have accrued after 18 games in the Premier League era. Even David Moyes had managed 30 points after 18 matches.
- There have been 5 red cards in the past 6 matches between these two a 3 for Chelsea and 2 for United.
- Manchester United have kept 6 clean sheets in their 8 Premier League home games so far this season.
Manchester United 1 a 1 Chelsea
Given the recent struggles of both the sides, this fixture could be short on goals and could end up with having no winner. While a point would make Hiddink happy, his compatriot and counterpart could be left without a job by the end of the year.
Blast from the past
We look at the last time the two teams met in the Premier League towards the end of last season.