While Chelsea near a second Premier League title in three years, Manchester United are still trying to come to terms with the harsh reality that they aren’t the force they used to be. About five years from now, Manchester United Vs Chelsea at the Old Trafford would potentially have been the defining fixture of the league, but as it stands, it’s just another game between a side that’s inching towards glory and a side that’s fallen further into its own dug grave.
The burgeoning gulf of class that separates the two was best reflected in the two teams’ recent meeting at the Stamford Bridge when Manchester United were blown away by a staggering 4-0. It wasn’t any defeat, it confirmed a shift in power and supremacy, it highlighted the decline of Jose Mourinho, it announced the arrival of England’s next big thing: Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. So much for the pre-season hype surrounding Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, a match that was seemingly made in heaven.
United’s munificence has been their undoing for quite some time now. “The Draw Masters”, as they are branded these days, have been ending up level on more occasions than they would want, and as a result have been unable to sustain a top four challenge despite being unbeaten in the league for 21 games, their last defeat coming against Chelsea in October.
And there’s every reason why they could yet again be beaten at the hands of the same opposition, if United’s big names continue to misfire at the right time. Volleying a goal against Stoke City won’t really make a difference, it’s in in games like these that you show what you actually are.
Put simply, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba have got to have a good game, or else, Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing well alone won’t be of any good. No more retiring early at the back either.
Key Player: Paul Pogba
Predicted XI: De Gea, Bailly, Rojo, Valencia, Darmian, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Zlatan.
“Well, this season Chelsea have beaten us two times and, obviously, we don’t want that to happen a third time – we want to win,” Pogba told MUTV.
“Obviously they are ahead of us, they’re playing for the title and, for them, it’s important to win this game, for us as well, because we’re playing for the top four as well, so it’s going to be a game that’s really important for each team.
“We have to be focused and get ready and show them revenge, it’s revenge for us. So, let’s be positive about it and hopefully go and win this game.”
Chelsea have already beaten Manchester United twice this season, once in the Premier League (4-0) and once in the FA Cup, knocking their rivals out. On a 12-game unbeaten run against their Manchester opponents, Antonio Conte’s side would go into the game wanting a win, as they don’t want Tottenham Hotspur spoiling the party so late in the season. They win this, and there’s hardly a tough game thereafter, which just about sums up how big this particular fixture is.
All they need is to turn up at Old Trafford and take advantage of an exhausted Manchester United – that’ll very likely be enough.
Key Player: N’Golo Kante
Predicted XI: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Alonso, Kante, Matic, Hazard, Pedro, Costa.
“My expectation is there will be a tough game,” Conte told Chelsea’s official website, “but when I think about a tough game I involve the tactical aspect, the physical aspect and the mental aspect, not only one aspect.
“It is not right to talk about only one of these aspects because there will be many great players with great technique but you know that only technique is not enough. You must have a good impact physically, tactically and also with the right mentality.”
Prediction: Manchester United 0-3 Chelsea