Chelsea v Manchester United
Live on Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Chelsea [2.1], Manchester United [4.2], The Draw [3.6]
Tactically, the main question mark at Stamford Bridge is about the approach of Jose Mourinho‘s side. While Chelsea’s players would be confident of defeating Manchester United on home soil, Mourinho tends to be cautious in big matches – and he knows that a point would be a decent result.
Looking at the league table explains why. A draw would mean an eight-point advantage over Chelsea’s nearest challengers Arsenal, having played the same number of games. A defeat, however, would make Manchester United their closest rivals – they’d be just five points behind Chelsea, albeit having played an extra game. A win? Well, that would be a huge boost for Chelsea, but in these kind of situations, you can usually rely upon Mourinho to be defensive.
A cautious approach is even more likely considering Chelsea are without the injured Diego Costa, with Loic Remy also a doubt. This could mean Didier Drogba leading the line instead, which would change Chelsea’s approach – he’s no longer capable of running the channels with pace, and would instead focus on bullying Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, something he can still do.
Mourinho will probably continue with the more defensive of his midfield formats, which means Cesc Fabregas in an advanced midfield role, and Ramires sitting alongside Nemanja Matic to provide more structure and protection for Chelsea’s backline. Otherwise, Mourinho has few selection dilemmas.
The same must be said of Louis van Gaal, who will name an unchanged side after three impressive wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City. Angel Di Maria must be content with a place on the bench with Ashley Young and Juan Mata in good form, while Robin van Persie could return from injury, but is unlikely to displace Wayne Rooney from the starting XI.
Arguably the player with the biggest job here will be Matic, who will play to the left of Chelsea’s holding midfield duo. In theory, he’ll be up against Manchester United’s Ander Herrera, the busy midfielder who has been in excellent form recently, but he’ll also have his eye on other players.
Mata will drift into his zone dangerously from the right, while Matic might also have to mark Marouane Fellaini when the Belgian moves forward, even if he’s been starting towards the opposite side of the pitch. With Rooney likely to drop deep, and John Terry and Gary Cahill unlikely to track him too far, Matic could have a huge role to play – which is why Mourinho will give him assistance in the form of Ramires.
With Young in fine form, Branislav Ivanovic will be tasked with stopping him in a one-versus-one battle out wide, with Willian probably dropping into a position to prevent Young receiving easy passes from Michael Carrick. The midfielder has the man who has been responsible for much of United’s possession dominance in recent weeks, and while Fabregas might attempt to mark him, Carrick has become adept at dropping into deep positions between the centre-backs to find space.
Chelsea’s attacking threat seems surprisingly meek with Fabregas not in particularly good form, Oscar out of the side, and Costa injured. In recent weeks they’ve relied heavily upon Eden Hazard, and he will relish the opportunity to attack Antonio Valencia, who has improved at right-back but still isn’t entirely comfortable in that position.
There’s a question about whether Hazard will track back with Valencia, who can be a force on the overlap, but it’s probably beneficial for him to stay in a good counter-attacking position. He specialises in getting opponents booked, and it’s also worth considering that Hazard’s 12 Premier League goals have come in 12 different games, making him a decent ‘To Score’ bet.
Still, I can’t escape the feeling that Mourinho would be happy with a draw here. And if there’s one thing Mourinho is good at, it’s playing for, and earning, a point.
It’s [3.6] for the draw, or if you fancy something slightly more complex, you might consider backing 0-0 and 1-1 at [11.0] and [7.4] respectively.
Back a draw at [3.6]
The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson
One of the biggest games of the season is taking place at the same time as the FA Cup semi-final as Chelsea take on Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening. While Chelsea haven’t been at their best of late both teams do come into this game on the back of important wins last time out so it should be an interesting encounter.
Chelsea are seven points clear of Arsenal with only seven games remaining and so far this season they are undefeated at home (W12, D3), equally when they face the Premier League elite sides they have an impressive record – losing only one of their last 13 at home against top six sides, though that defeat was against Saturday’s opponents (2-3 October 2012).
The only issue for Chelsea is that they will be without Diego Costa and potentially Loic Remy for the game meaning Didier Drogba will once again lead the attack.
The Red Devils were very impressive as they rolled over neighbours City in their last game, winning 4-2, meaning they have now won six in a row, while on the road this season they have only lost three games (Swansea, Man City and Leicester).
United will be looking to apply league pressure on Arsenal by potentially moving into second place, with the Gunners in FA Cup action (at the same time!) this weekend and still having to play both these sides(Chelsea at home, United away) this campaign. One slight injury concern for Louis Van Gaal is Michael Carrick who was forced off in the win over City last weekend, he is expected to line up but would be a big miss if he didn’t start here.
The last four meetings between these two at the Bridge have produced 18 goals and both teams have scored in all four games. It’s a concern that two of Chelsea’s main attacking threats may not be available but I will be backing Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.22 with a saver for that stake on 1-1 @ 7.4.