A bit of Background
This game is between 2 sides who currently have a lot of similarities. From a purist’s point of view, however, Manchester United and Chelsea have been as similar as chalk and cheese. During the golden era of Sir Alex, United fans used to mock Chelsea for trying to buy titles and firing managers every season. Not even a single United supporter would have imagined that United would also be following the same template in few years’ time (minus the success that Chelsea achieved with the same template)
United was able to make good progress last season on the field and it was expected that United hierarchy would back Ole and get him players he wanted so that he could take United closer to Liverpool and City. However, United fans unanimously feel that Ole was let down in the transfer market. May be it was the knee jerk reaction to 1-6 thrashing received at the hands of Mourino’s Spurs that led United to haphazardly apply Band-Aid on the squad on the last day of the transfer window. Whatever it was, the buck always stops with the manager and once the season is started, Ole will be responsible for performance and results on the pitch.
Chelsea on the other hand was forced (due to transfer ban) last year to follow the (old) United model of promoting the youth and academy players into the first team. And one must say that Frank Lampard did a fantastic job, operating with a young squad and getting Chelsea into top4. Once the transfer ban was over, it was BAU (business as usual) at the Bridge as the Russian Billionaire shopped like there is no tomorrow.
To be honest, Chelsea has meticulously assembled a good squad with shrewd purchases spread over the transfer window. It’s now the matter of how soon Frank Lampard is able to get them playing like a team. At least on paper, Chelsea looks like the team that can give tough fight to Liverpool and City. The only obvious weakness is defence and goalkeeper. Lampard knows better than most that the trigger happy Russian billionaire will demand success this season.
Summarily, both the clubs come into this match in similar state – unbalanced squads, ex-legends as managers, stuttering start to the season and little room for slip ups!
Early season form is never really an indication. Moreover, this has been one of the strangest seasons with little to no pre-season preparation for most of the teams. Hence it’s no surprises almost all the teams (sans Everton) have had erratic results so far. United and Chelsea are no different. United expectedly is having a stuttering start to the season with two crushing home defeats in two home games against two London clubs already. Chelsea on the other hand was expected to be out of the blocks quickly mainly because of the $300 million (reported) outlay but draws against West Brom and Southampton have been damaging.
United is entering the crucial phase of the season with a number of big games lined up. Another loss at home against another London club will make it three in row and will put a lot of pressure on Ole. It helped that they passed the first challenge with flying colours defeating PSG in Paris. Chelsea on the other hand could only muster a goalless draw at home against Sevilla. Chelsea has a kinder fixture list and a loss at Old Trafford may not be as damaging for them as it could be for United.
Head to Head Record
Of all the big clubs in the premier league, United probably has the worst head to head record against Chelsea. Though the recent record is encouraging for Ole. He was able to get better of Lampard 3 times out of 4 when these two teams met last season, including a rare league double.
Likely teams and formations
United is missing Martial due to suspension and the club captain Harry Maguire is an injury doubt. In Martial’s absence Ole may go with a 3-5-1-1 formation, playing Rashford as lone striker and Fernandes in the hole. In this case United can expect more midfield control with 3 midfielders (likely to be McTominay, Matic and Pogba). Alternatively, Ole may decide to play Rashford and Greenwood as two strikers with Fernandes in the hole in a 3-5-2. In this case midfield will have just 2 players out of the probable list of Matic/McTominay/ Pogba. This will mean ceding some control to Chelsea’s midfield.
Chelsea is likely to go with more attack minded 4-2-3-1 formation that includes their quartet of Mount, Werner, Havertz and Pulisic with likely pairing of Jorginho and Kante in the middle of the park.
One thing looks certain that both teams are going to concede at least one goal. The team that can defend better may be able to win the match and United will probably have a slight edge in this department. If David de Gea is able to bring the same form that he showed in Paris earlier this week then United will be able to open their account at Old Trafford. I predict a 2-1 win for United.
– Rajneesh Verma [Rajneesh Verma is the Founder of Sportz Cosmos and leads the Football Galaxy. You can reach him at the gmail id: sportzcosmos]