Chelsea travel to the Old Trafford on Sunday to go up once again against their former manager Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United.
Chelsea have just seen their lead atop the Premier League table shrink to 4 points and anything except a victory will pile on pressure on Antonio Conte and his men as the season draws to a close.
The Blues have been the clear favourites but Tottenham’s form has brought them right back into the title race, which could be blown wide open if Mourinho is able to exact revenge on his Italian counterpart.
Manchester United themselves, are floundering at fifth on the table and need a win in order to continue their charge on the top-four and maintain their incredible unbeaten run that they are currently on. A draw is unlikely to help either side at this stage.
We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Manchester United FC
Juan Mata has been confirmed to be out for the remainder of the season – which will be a huge blow to the club. However, their recent victory against Sunderland saw them excel without the Spaniard and the Portuguese would be hopeful their team can cope without the little magician.
Elsewhere, the English pairing of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are still sidelined with their respective injury issues. But, Mourinho has sufficient backup in Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo, who have been the Portuguese’s first-choice pairing so far.
Wayne Rooney has been missing from several games due to a lack of fitness and he is again a doubt for the game. Mourinho, though, has a tough challenge on his cards, as to which players he selects to boss the attacking roles on Sunday.
The Portuguese has not started Anthony Martial for a while now and is unlikely to push him into the starting lineup in such a big game. We could very well see three central-minded midfielders starting again – with Carrick, Herrera and Pogba the likeliest to be selected.
However, Fellaini’s presence might be something that Mourinho chooses to go with instead of Carrick due to the importance of bossing the midfield. Mkhitaryan and Rashford seem to be the most logical choice. However, Jesse Lingard’s work-rate could easily see him being selected over his fellow academy graduate.
Probable Lineup ( 4-3-2-1/ 4-3-3 ): De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Shaw; Carrick, Herrera, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Zlatan
Chelsea, to the delight of Antonio Conte, have no players sidelined through injury issues or unavailable due to suspensions. The Blues are at full strength but it will be interesting to see if Conte continues to start Diego Costa – who has been unable to find the back of the net in recent times.
Pedro was the star of their Premier League triumph over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season and the Spaniard is likely to start again on the wing, with Eden Hazard on the opposite end. The Belgian has found his lost form and is back to his menacing best, to the delight of Chelsea fans throughout the world.
Hazard is set to come up against his former mentor Mourinho – who once claimed that the Belgian was the second-best player in the world, behind only to Lionel Messi. Manchester United were accused of being overly physical with the Belgian in the FA Cup tie recently and it will be intriguing to see if there is a repeat.
Probable Lineup ( 3-4-3 ): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Matic, Kante, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard
1. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.90
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score anytime @ 2.10
1. Full Time Result – Draw @ 3.10
1. Chelsea are undefeated against Manchester United in their last 12 meetings in all competitions.
2. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United is yet to breach the defence of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last five Premier League games – 5 goals and 3 in his last 10 Premier League appearances.
4. In a huge contrast to Zlatan, Diego Costa has just 3 goals and no assists to his name in his lat 10 Premier League appearances.
5. Chelsea have the least amount of draws in the Premier League this season so far (3) and they go up against a Manchester United side who are tied with Middlesbrough for the most number of draws (12) in the Premier League this season.
Player to Watch
Paul Pogba was very poor against Chelsea last time out, not being able to justify his price tag. But, the Frenchman has slowly developed into a key player for Manchester United, leading the charts for the club in terms of key passes and chances created.
Against a Chelsea midfield of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic – two workhorses – the Frenchman will have his task cut out again. But, the result of the fixture is likely to hinge upon who wins the midfield battle.
Manchester United FC 1 – 1 Chelsea FC
Manchester United and Chelsea both need to win but are unlikely to risk losing the game either. This looks, however, to be a game which the Red Devils may be able to dominate, seeing as they are more desperate for a win, especially with Mourinho, who will hate to lose again and see Conte do the double over him.
But, their inability to secure wins this season is likely to see them end up with another draw in their hand, a result that will do more harm than good to both the sides.