Jose Mourinho will bring his Manchester United side to Stamford Bridge on Sunday night to face Antonio Conte’s bruised Chelsea, in a pulsating fixture at the top of the Premier League table.
United bounced back from their shock loss against Huddersfield with a statement victory against Tottenham at Old Trafford. This was backed up with a 2-0 win over Benfica at home in the Champions League, maintaining their perfect record in Europe and almost guaranteeing a first placed finish in the group.
Mourinho’s men currently sit second on the Premier League table, but have slipped to five points behind neighbours Manchester City at the top. In his return to Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese will be hoping to reduce the gap between United and their rivals.
Chelsea earned a 1-0 win at Bournemouth last time out in the league, but were humiliated 3-0 against AS Roma in the Italian capital during the week. The Blues defence looked shambolic and unorganised, and posed more questions than answers for Conte heading into this blockbuster weekend.
The Londoners are in fourth place in the league at the moment, but can narrow the distance between themselves and United to a solitary point with a victory on Monday morning.
Key Battle: Nemanja Matic vs Ngolo Kante
In his return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving for United in the summer, Matic will play a pivotal role in ensuring his side take home all three points.
The Serbian has been a revelation at the Theatre of Dreams, wowing supporters with his performances and staking his claim as one of the top midfielders in the Premier League.
He will come up against a Chelsea midfield that is in a mini crisis. Enforcer Ngolo Kante will be touch and go up until kick-off as to whether he is included in the side. The Blues were overrun in the centre of the park in Rome during the week, as the absence of their French star was evidently felt.
Whichever two of Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas start in midfield for the hosts, they will need to be in their best form to overcome Matic and his teammates.
The midfield is ultimately where much of the battle is won and lost on a football pitch, and the result could come down to which key man is able to assert their dominance.
Victor Moses is certain to miss for the hosts, as he eyes a return over the international break from a hamstring strain sustained against Crystal Palace. Kante, as previously mentioned, is uncertain to play as Conte has stressed he will only be used if fully fit. The Italian will recognise that Chelsea are a much better side with Kante in it, and will be hoping that he can prove his fitness in time for the clash.
Expected Chelsea XI: Courtois (GK); Rudiger, Luiz, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso, Pedro, Morata, Hazard.
United’s injury list continues to be extensive, with Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick all still on the treatment table, as well as longer term absentees Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo. Jesse Lingard picked up a knock in the Champions League during the week and will need to be assessed, while Mourinho should be able to call on Phil Jones again, who was rested for the game against Benfica. The Red Devils could revert to the three at the back formation which worked well against Spurs last week.
Expected Manchester United XI: De Gea (GK); Jones, Smalling, Bailly, Valencia, Matic, Herrera, Young, Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Lukaku.
Chelsea have the upper hand over their rivals in overall head-to-head meetings between the two, with 17 wins versus United’s 14 in 50 Premier League fixtures, with the sides sharing the spoils on 19 occasions.
The previous two meetings were split by the sides in what has been a very even encounter in recent years. United have not won at Stamford Bridge since 2012, and one has to go all the way back to 2002 to find their only other win at the Bridge since the turn of the century.
Manchester United prevailed the last time the sides met. Goals to Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera gave the Red Devils a 2-0 at Old Trafford on that occasion against runaway champions Chelsea, in a game filled with controversy and excitement – as always seems to be the case when these two come together.
Chelsea need to bounce back after their tumultuous European outing. Sitting nine points off the summit of the Premier League, the Blues need desperately to maintain touching distance with City at the top. A win in a big game such as this could be the catalyst for a title push for Conte’s charges.
After two games without a win the league, United have recorded two big wins over the past seven days, and can come into this game with the confidence to be able to grab a third in succession. Mourinho will undoubtedly have his tactics set up for the players, who will deliver the boss’ message to perfection.
It will be a game full of familiar faces, with Alvaro Morata playing against his former manager in Mourinho, while the likes of Matic, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata and Mourinho himself all are returning to face the fans who used to sing their names.
Chelsea’s home form in this tie is undeniable, however, United have the superior form coming into this game. The Red Devils have kept eight clean sheets in their last nine games across all competitions, and if they can get their attack firing against a shaky Blues defence, they should secure the three points and break their Stamford Bridge hoodoo.
Chelsea 0 Manchester United 2