While the record books lie in wait for Manchester City to rewrite them, the only thing the current top 4 race lacks is an Arsenal resurgence to make it a five-way challenge. As it stands however, a mere 4 points separate Manchester United in 2nd and Spurs in 5th, with just 11 games left in the season to run.
Man United vs Chelsea Prediction
Man United have had some good fortunes at home, and that may yet prove to be a pivotal factor in whether Mourinho upstages his former employer. Chelsea have been highly erratic of late, and the growing cynicism at Stamford Bridge is largely linked to off-field drama, particularly surrounding coach Antonio Conte. With Liverpool and Spurs both in good form of late, both these sides have considerable incentive to win this crucial 6 pointer.
Man United: Erratically optimistic
It’s fair to say much of the recent fortunes for the Old Trafford behemoth haven’t gone according to the plan. Optimism took a positive turn when Alexis Sanchez signed for the club. The Chilean’s debut in the FA Cup against Yeovil gave a positive indication of his potential contribution and marked the 5th consecutive win in all competitions.
The trip to Spurs materialized into a far less ideal scenario. Pochettino’s side have taken massive strides in the top 4 race, and it started with the win over their rivals. Mourinho’s side dropped further points in an innocuous defeat to Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle, effectively allowing Liverpool and Spurs to make up ground on the battle for 2nd place. But despite this form and recent reports suggesting some unhappiness from young starlet Paul Pogba, the Red Devils remain with reason for optimism. Points on the board are always more preferable to games in hand, and they were even able to rotate their squad extensively during the recent FA Cup tie against Huddersfield, indicating adequate depth ahead of a busy week involving both Champions League football and the massive clash against the Blues.
Chelsea: Erratically pessimistic
Such fortunes, while mixed, contrast more favourably compared to Stamford Bridge. Manager Antonio Conte is expected to face a Chelsea exit by season end. Chelsea have only won 4 of their last 12 matches in all competitions. Recent defeats to Arsenal (League Cup semifinal), and embarrassing scorelines at home to Bournemouth and away to Watford have left fans considerably jaded at Blues prospects. Back to back wins against WBA and Hull have given some respite to the negativity, but this isn’t expected to matter too much as the Blues face a massive 2 weeks in which they host La Liga leaders Barcelona and travel to both Manchester clubs.
The reasons for this malaise is unclear on the surface. Many cite the presumed internal politics as the common causes for these issues, but more specifically, it’s clear the defending EPL champions require a little more form from any player who doesn’t have the name “Hazard” on the back of the shirt. Injury and poor performances characterize the current plight of Alvaro Morata, who hasn’t found the net since December against Brighton. Hazard has scored 6 goals in as many of his last games, but Chelsea will need than just the skilled Belgian playmaker to help them win the next 3 games against such difficult opponents.
By the Numbers
In Head to Head respects, the numbers speak to the importance of home soil. The last match between these sides that failed to produce a winner was in February 2016’s 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge with Diego Costa scoring a dramatic injury time equaliser. The last time an away side won this fixture was Chelsea’s Juan Mata inspired win in May of 2013, which also serves as the last time that the Blues won at Old Trafford.
Last 6 matches, all competitions: Chelsea 3 wins in last 4
|November ‘17||League||Stamford Bridge||Chelsea 1-0 Man United|
|April ‘17||League||Old Trafford||Man United 2-0 Chelsea|
|March ‘17||FA Cup||Stamford Bridge||Chelsea 1-0 Man United|
|October ‘16||League||Stamford Bridge||Chelsea 4-0 Man United|
|February ‘16||League||Stamford Bridge||Chelsea 1-1 Man United|
|December ‘15||League||Old Trafford||Man United 0-0 Chelsea|
Last 6 matches at Old Trafford: 4 draws in last 6
|April ‘17||League||Man United 2-0 Chelsea|
|December ‘15||League||Man United 0-0 Chelsea|
|October ‘14||League||Man United 1-1 Chelsea|
|August ‘13||League||Man United 0-0 Chelsea|
|May ‘13||League||Man United 0-1 Chelsea|
|March ‘13||FA Cup||Man United 2-2 Chelsea|
Man United are the most difficult defence to penetrate at their home ground, having conceded just 5 goals (only 3 teams have scored at Old Trafford in league competition, being Man City, Burnley and Newcastle). The Red Devils are currently unbeaten in 5 matches at home. Their home record against top 4 rivals thus far has gone according to plan with a 1-0 win over Spurs in October, but will have this record tested more stringently with upcoming visits from Chelsea and Liverpool (10 March). Manager Jose Mourinho’s record against Conte is less than favourable; with only 1 win from 5 matches.
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Chelsea’s overall away record is the 3rd best in the league, but their recent form has yielded 2 wins (Huddersfield, Brighton) and 2 defeats (West Ham, Watford). Chelsea’s travels to top 4 rivals has been good, with a win over Spurs in August, and draws at Anfield and the Emirates.
Man United will be hopeful that new signing Alexis Sanchez can improve his personal record against the Blues; Sanchez has only scored twice in 12 previous meetings against the Blues, one of the worst of his personal records. Hazard’s record against Man United isn’t much better, with 2 goals more in 14 appearances against the Red Devils.
A key statistic to examine for both these sides is the distribution of goals, and the extent to which they’re involved in matches where both sides score goals, and when goals occur:
|Number of League Matches where:|
|Matches||Failed to Score||Conceded at least 1 goal||1st half goals scored||2nd half goals scored||Winning at halftime|
|Man United||27||5 (18%)||12 (44%)||14 (51%)||18 (66%)||11 (40%)|
|Man United (at home)||13||1 (7%)||3 (23%)||7 (53%)||10 (76%)||6 (46%)|
|Man United (last 6)||6||2 (33%)||2 (33%)||1 (16%)||4 (66%)||1 (16%)|
|Chelsea||27||6 (22%)||13 (48%)||13 (48%)||18 (66%)||11 (40%)|
|Chelsea (away)||13||2 (15%)||8 (61%)||7 (53%)||10 (76%)||6 (46%)|
|Chelsea (last 6)||6||1 (16%)||3 (50%)||2 (33%)||4 (66%)||2 (33%)|
Source: whoscored.com, soccerway.com
Some key observations:
- Man United are very formidable at home – Old Trafford doesn’t typically fail to produce both goals for the Red Devils and a solid defensive performance.
- Both sides are often a far better team in the 2nd half of matches.
- Neither side tends to fail in scoring respects, so even if many goals aren’t expected, a low scoring draw is highly plausible.
Probably the most intriguing tactical question to ask Mourinho would be whether he’ll retain the rotation he’s shown in recent alternating matches with Huddersfield, Newcastle and Spurs. Man United’s 4-2-3-1 system has evolved slightly since Alexis Sanchez’s arrival with the Chilean taking up his preferred slot in the left forward position, meaning that Juan Mata and Anthony Martial have shared the role on the opposite flank. Given the importance of the fixture, even with a trip to Sevilla in midweek, it’s unlikely Mourinho will deviate from what appears to be his strongest lineup, used (ironically) in the defeats to Spurs and Newcastle. The only real question will with the return of Eric Bailly potentially forcing one of Smalling or Jones back to rotational duty on the bench. That said, the Portuguese manager often plays big games like this as tight, strangled affairs, so deliberately expansive football from the home side isn’t likely.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have their work cut out for them. Their advantage of not being required to travel as much as Man United is somewhat offset by the difficulty of their midweek opponents. The exertions of facing Messi and Suarez may just count against the Blues in whatever hopes they have to keep a solid reserve of energy against the Red Devils. Conte’s 3-4-3 looked far more effective against WBA with new signing Olivier Giroud at its tip, but arguably the most important decision the Italian will need to make will be in midfield. It may be tempting to return to a double pivot of Kante and Bakayoko to offer more defensive solidity to protect against Man United counter attacks, but Fabregas’ ability to progress the ball into effective attacking positions may be far more important to Chelsea’s prospects to win.
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The mood, the scheduling and the home ground for this game favour Man United. Both sides have the majority of their squads intact but there are arguably more broader concerns with Chelsea’s form than that of the Red Devils. Chelsea have had two impressive wins on the bounce, but it remains to be seen if the malaise that allegedly seems to have infiltrated the energy behind the scenes will create a pale shade of the quality expected from Chelsea blue.
Strictly speaking, a tight 1-0 win for the home side is arguably the most logical result given the nature of the teams and Man United’s strong home record in particular. However, more incentive rests with Chelsea. It’s their reward of making ground on Man United in the table while keeping up with the good form of Liverpool and Spurs. That said, being expansive runs the risk that Spurs could displace them into 5th, while losing further on Liverpool and Man United.
Chelsea’s squad should have the required firepower to penetrate Man United, but equally, the hosts have a point or two to prove; new signing Alexis Sanchez in particular needs to deliver a compelling performance and a victory – albeit a likely low-scoring one – over a key top 4 rival should just about deliver that.