Chelsea v Man Utd – Form
Although the defeat against PSG demonstrated how far we still have to go to reach the level required to compete properly in the Champions League, a 2-0 defeat against the Parisians is hardly an embarrassment and we remain unbeaten from 11 matches domestically under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. One poor result shouldn’t drain the confidence away, though our head-to-head results with Chelsea in recent times makes for uncomfortable reading.
The Blues have won their last six cup ties against us, including last years’ showpiece event, while they also knocked us out of this tournament the previous campaign in sixth round, with both games finishing 1-0. That has been a common theme, as Chelsea have now won seven of nine unbeaten encounters since the start of 2013 in London, as all but last years’ final came at Stamford Bridge. However, they’ve generally been tight affairs as six of the seven Chelsea wins finished by that same 1-0 scoreline.
Maurizio Sarri’s outfit may have lost just once in 21 home games this term, but though they’ve won their last five at the Bridge during their recent difficult spell, four of them were against Nottingham Forest, Newcastle, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield. They’ve lost three of four clashes with ‘Big Six’ sides in 2019 to date, and they’ll be wary of the psychological damage another could do to them.
A lot of attention has been given to the concept of ‘Sarri-ball’, which in reality means a focus on dominating possession and incessant pressing without the ball, though it requires players with the right attributes to carry out the instructions. Jorginho was brought in over the summer to be the brains of the team from the base of midfield, but Sarri’s insistence on his man playing in that role has left Chelsea disjointed tactically.
N’Golo Kante has of course been the biggest victim, even if he’s made a reasonable job of playing out of position, but opponents have worked out that if you suffocate the air around Jorginho, then you essentially stop Chelsea from playing. There’s been little evidence of a plan B from the Italian, and Solskjaer must instruct our boys to make sure Jorginho has nowhere to turn.
Paul Pogba’s silly red card won’t prevent him from featuring here but while his presence is important after the way in which he’s dominated games recently, the rest of the team news isn’t fantastic to say the least. Groin and hamstring issues forced off Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard respectively just either side of the break midweek, and that creates significant problems going forwards.
Romelu Lukaku will come back into the side here, but after a couple of goals from the bench in his first two appearances under new management, plus a strike when starting against Reading in the FA Cup, the Belgian has since struggled to make an impact as he’s been supplanted in the starting XI by Marcus Rashford. However, with Alexis Sanchez’s woes continuing both on the field and when encountering linesmen on the touchline, picking up an unfortunate knee injury, that will inevitably see Rashford pushed back out wide where he’s not quite so effective – unless Solskjaer goes left-field and dips into the academy.
Meanwhile, there’ll be another start for Juan Mata, but though the 30-year-old remains a useful squad player, pace has never been his forte and he can’t deliver mesmerizing speed on the break. Indeed, the last time a front three of Mata, Lukaku and Rashford were deployed, we struggled to score against Burnley before two late strikes salvaged a point and preserved the unbeaten start under Solskjaer.
This is a difficult game to call, with Chelsea holding a great home record this term and also against ourselves over a number of years, but at the same time encountering recent troubles. Their 2-1 win over Malmo was hardly especially convincing, but then again neither were some of their other victories in the Europa League earlier in the campaign when they were in much better form. Meanwhile, Solskjaer’s fantastic start has suffered its first real setback and this is the first time he’ll have to demand a response from his charges. The Norwegian will know that a cup run could go a long way to securing a permanent position at Old Trafford so he’ll make sure his troops keep it tight to begin with. Given some of our key attackers are absent, and recent encounters between the two have been cagey, Under 2.5 Goals looks to be the smart play.