A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s first of back to back Sundays in Manchester.
This Sunday Chelsea make the trip up to Old Trafford for their Premier League match against former manager Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. The Blues currently have a superb record against The Red Devils, losing only one of their last 14 encounters. However that single victory was in this match up last season when Marcus Rashford led the home side to a 2-0 win.
Both sides go into this match on the back of tough Champions League assignments against Spanish opposition. On Tuesday Chelsea outplayed but ultimately drew at home to Barcelona, whilst on Wednesday Manchester United played out a flat uninspiring 0-0 draw away to Sevilla.
Whilst Antonio Conte’s tactical masterplan featured Eden Hazard playing in a false 9 role while both top scorer Alvaro Morata and January signing Olivier Giroud sat on the bench, it is likely that the Chelsea manager will opt for a recognised striker to lead the line at Old Trafford. With nearly 5 days passing since their last outing, Conte is likely to change as little of his starting line up and the only other possible change may see any extra midfielder slotted in. However both changes are very unlikely as it would require either Hazard or the in form Willian making way.
Mourinho’s main decisions will be whether to stick with Lukaku up front despite his recent performances returning to a slow, lethargic style and whether to recall Paul Pogba in midfield. Whilst the focus for their trip to Sevilla was to not lose the first leg, The Red Devils will be aiming to repeat their home victory of last season.
However this is likely to be a match up more about tactics in a very tight fixture. Neither manager will be targeting a free flowing open match and there are plenty of scores to settle all over the pitch, as well as on the touch line. Expect both defences to be as narrow and as robust as possible. The midfield will be a nonstop battle ground with no quarter given. The flair players, the likes of Sanchez, Martial, Hazard and Willian will be offered minimal space as both sides will be sent out to strangle any attacking threat from their opposition as their priority.
For the neutral watching, their biggest hope will be an early goal. Otherwise we could well see the sides with the most Premier League clean sheets so far this season extend their records. As for The Blues, they have only scored 1 goal in their last 4 league visits to Old Trafford. They will be very keen to rectify that statistic and buoyed by their performance in midweek and with genuine competition for the main striking role hopefully the visitors will be the side who will attempt to make the early running.
However any tie against Europe’s probably most talented side will have taken a fair amount out of the Chelsea players both mentally and physically. Sunday’s match will be the perfect tonic to see how much Tuesday’s match took out of them and how much they can recover afterwards whilst on this current run of tough matches.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue