Chelsea vs Manchester United
Venue: Stamford Bridge
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Mike Dean
Chelsea will play host to an embattled Manchester United side this Saturday with Maurizio Sarri’s men looking to extend their unbeaten run in the Premier League to nine matches.
The Blues have been dominant under new manager Sarri so far this season, winning six of their first eight games and looking like early title contenders as they keep pace with both Manchester City and Liverpool, with only goal difference separating the top three. Their explosive start is in large part due to the sublime form of Eden Hazard who is currently the league’s top goalscorer with seven goals which is complemented by three assists.
The addition of midfield maestro Jorginho and the recent resurgence of Barkley, who was instrumental in their 3-0 win against Southampton, has rejuvenated a side that looked exhausted under Conte last season. David Luiz has also enjoyed a purple patch in recent weeks as Sarri has looked to capitalise on the Brazilian’s ball-playing abilities from centre-half. The only worry for Chelsea fans will be the fluctuating form of Morata who continues to struggle in finding his place in the squad.
With Manchester City and Liverpool not playing until later in the weekend, a win against Mourinho’s United would put Chelsea top of the table and provide a crucial psychological boost for the squad.
Manchester United have had an abominable start to the season for their standards. They currently sit eighth in the league having picked up just 13 points from their first eight fixtures with four wins, three losses and one draw. Mourinho’s position at the club looks increasingly tenuous with many sections of the Old Trafford faithful now calling for his head. However, their spirited comeback from 2-0 down which led to a win over Newcastle before the international break could prove to be the catalyst required to kick-start their season.
There are problems across the board for this United team; while Mourinho’s limited successes in his first two seasons at the club were predicated on a solid defence, the United back four are leaking goals this season. They have conceded 14 goals so far this season with only Fulham, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City conceding more.
Despite the unreliability of United’s back four, Mourinho has refused to abandon his conservative style and the likes of Pogba, Martial and Rashford have suffered as a result. Pogba was magisterial in the second half against Newcastle two weeks ago and orchestrated nearly all of United’s attacks, demonstrating his continued talent and importance to this side. If United are going to turn this season around, Mourinho will need to place more faith in the abilities of his attacking players and hope his defence can stabilise too.
Chelsea escaped the international break relatively unscathed. The only doubt for Saturday is Antonio Rüdiger who continues to recover from a lingering groin strain.
The Blues midfield features an embarrassment of riches with the likes of Kanté, Jorginho, Barkley, Fabregas, Kovačić and Loftus-Cheek all competing for starting spots. With Kanté and Jorginho having locked down their starting positions, Sarri will need to decide whether or not to continue with Barkley as the third midfielder or to turn to the experienced Kovačić in these early stages of the season.
Another issue facing Sarri is the continuing form of Morata. While Giroud offers a solid option to lead the line with his aerial prowess, work rate and good movement, Sarri will be keen to give Morata, the more technically skilled of the two players, an opportunity to find some form.
United are currently missing Lingard and Rojo through on-going injuries while Shaw, Matic and McTominay all withdrew from their respective international squads with injury concerns this past week. Additionally, Dalot came off as a substitute from Portugal U21s as a precaution, Fellaini missed both of Belgium’s fixtures with a reported hamstring injury and Herrera continues to struggle with an ankle injury which has plagued him for the last two months. It is unclear if any of these will be fit enough to feature at the weekend.
Another headache for Mourinho will be his decision on who to start in the attacking positions. Lukaku and Sanchez have been in poor form this season while Martial and Rashford have experienced an upturn in form in recent weeks with Rashford bagging a goal for England in Spain during the week.
Pogba’s performance in a deeper position showcased his passing range and ability but this also creates problems with how to properly balance the midfield for both defensive and attacking phases.
Fred could provide a good lynch-pin with his energy and tenacious tackling if Matic is to miss out through injury. Similarly, Periera could return to the midfield three to provide the technical ability that Matic, Fellaini and Fred sometimes lack.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Chelsea: (4-3-3) Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rüdiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kanté, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Giroud, Hazard.
Manchester United: (4-3-3) De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Fred, Matic, Pogba; Rashford, Lukaku, Martial.
Score Prediction: Chelsea 2 Manchester United 0
Even though their spirited comeback against Newcastle was impressive, United are still weak defensively and their midfield lacks authority while Chelsea are looking dominant in all areas. United will struggle to contain the likes of Jorginho and Hazard so Chelsea should run out comfortable victors at home.