After the winter break is FINALLY over, Manchester United travel down to London in an attempt to close the gap to fourth-placed Chelsea. Both teams are yet to hit top gear this year and desperate for a big win to revitalize their chase for the Champions League spot.
This should have some surprises in store. United have been woeful on the road this season. Chelsea have lost most of their points at home. Something has got to give. Expect a lot of drama, but the team to have worked the hardest during the two-week break will come out on top.
Chelsea Predicted XI
Kepa, James, Zouma, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, Willian, Mount, Abraham
At this point, only Christian Pulisic & Ruben Loftus-Cheek are the ones who probably won’t make it as they’re still recovering from injuries. Kepa Arizzabalaga was dropped against Leicester City for his constant mistakes but should return against United.
Manchester United Predicted XI
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Williams, Fred, Matic, Fernandes, James, Mata, Martial
The good thing for United is that their injury problems are dwindling. Scott McTominay & Paul Pogba are both training again, but won’t be available for this one. Only Marcus Rashford is a long-term absentee. Odion Ighalo should start from the bench. Nemanja Matic should also be back after serving his suspension.
Chelsea vs Manchester United Preview
United haven’t scored a goal in three Premier League matches now. They’ve created chances, but nobody has been able to finish them off. Ighalo has been brought to fix that issue, but isn’t fit nor adapted to their style yet.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is left to work with the same core which drew against Wolves, but the Red Devils have shown improving signs coming out from breaks under him. They are normally revitalized after getting rest, which OGS should put to good use.
He does have a pretty good record against Chelsea, having defeated them both the times they’ve faced this season. However, the reason for both the victories- Rashford & Pogba- are both unavailable.
But Chelsea’s defence has also shown little signs of improvement. They’ve conceded 5 goals in their last 3 league games & looked extremely vulnerable on occasions. OGS’ would want his side to capitalize on their problems.
He’ll hope new-signing Bruno Fernandes can finally make the impact he was signed for. The Portuguese midfielder showcased promising signs against Wolves, taking wicked shots on goal & being a vocal figure, but he must up the ante to dominate the indomitable, but out-of-form N’Golo Kante.
However, Fernandes can’t really create definitive chances unless the front-three ahead show enough willingness to meet his tempo. Daniel James has struggled in 2020 & seems to be running out of steam. However, United need his pace & tenacity to trouble Chelsea’s anxious backline.
They also need Anthony Martial to display his lethal striking instincts. The Frenchman smoked up Stamford Bridge with a brilliant brace last season, but last scored a league goal in 2019! He must be more clever with his positioning & movement for his team-mates to find him in promising positions.
Moreover, he must finish off whatever he gets if he’s to get on the score-sheet. Juan Mata knows Chelsea all too well, but he’ll want to become their nightmare plowing forward incisive passes & being a troublesome figure in attack.
That being said, Frank Lampard’s side won’t let United have it easy. The Englishman is desperate to oust them for embarrassing him twice this season & will unleash his energized youngsters after enjoying a small winter-break themselves.
Willian is capable of being unplayable on his day with his movement & creativity, while Tammy Abraham can pop in to all the right areas to find the back of the net. Reece James possesses a scary crossing ability, while Mason Mount & Mateo Kovacic’s link-up ability can run rings around defenders.
United have kept three clean sheets in a row coming into the tie, as captain Harry Maguire must put in another strong shift alongside Victor Lindelof to maintain the impressive defensive record. Brandon Williams bullied Chelsea in the cup and should play again to trifle the hosts, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka keeps a close check on Willian.
But the biggest way United can score/win is by perfecting their swift-breaks. Fred & Nemanja Matic are tireless workers, but they must stock up creativity to pile better forward-passes and start off sequences.
Unless the Red Devils can finish off chances or test the wonky Kepa with persistent attempts, their barren goal-scoring run won’t end. They must win this to boost their Champions League hopes. However, the slightest of mistakes could see the lethal Chelsea side effectively end their dreams.
Coming out from a break, this could go either way. But considering Chelsea inconsistency at home/United’s inability to finish off games, I think this will be a 1-1 draw.