Location : Old Trafford, Manchester
Betting Line : 13/8 home, 11/5 draw, 9/5 away
Players To Watch
United’s top scorer this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic poses the biggest threat to Chelsea’s defense. Having conceded a goal in each of their last nine games, the Blues’ defense is not as tight as it used to be, and Zlatan’s height could prove to be a problem against Cesar Azpilicueta. Given the number of chances United can create, the big Swede could cause problems for Chelsea.
Having scored three goals in his last two games, Eden Hazard is playing some of the best football of his life at the moment. The Belgian has been sintilating and virtually undefendable at times. Recently nominated for PFA Player of the Year, Hazard is arguably the most in-form player in the league. Given United’s leaky defense, it’s probable that Hazard torments their back line for a full ninety minutes.
Jose Mourinho is without Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Juan Mata through injury. Wayne Rooney is also a doubt, as is Ashley Young. Given United’s recent injury problems, especially at centre back, Mourinho might be concerned about how many minutes Rojo and Bailly have been playing lately. Blind is their only other option, but with Young doubtful, the Dutchman is required at left back. The thinness of United’s back line could be exploited by Chelsea’s deadly attack.
Antonio Conte is expected to field the same starting eleven that’s taken Chelsea to the top of the table. Having only started fourteen players throughout the entire season, Conte tends to go with his core players over and over – and it’s worked so far. Conte’s only real decision is starting Matic or Fabregas, and he’s likely to go with the prior to give Chelsea more height in the midfield to combat Fellaini, Pogba, and Zlatan.
Last time United played Chelsea in the league, they suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss. Just over a month ago, United lost yet again to the Blues in the FA Cup quarterfinals, but this time it was much closer. This fixture should also be a close one.
Mourinho has been chatting things up between him and Conte recently, and Conte isn’t taking the bait. Despite recently (sort of?) complementing Chelsea’s defense prowess, Mourinho has his own defense to worry about. The United back line is injury-riddled and Chelsea will look to exploit that. Rojo and Bailly are not the Red’s strongest pairing, nor have they played together too much, and Chelsea will look to exploit the novelty of their partnership, as Hazard, Pedro, and Costa are all more than capable of doing. Expect the Blues to stretch the pitch with lots of changes of play and get their wingbacks involved.
In the midfield, Kante and Matic are outnumbered by Fellaini, Herrera, and Pogba, but this hasn’t been an issue the previous two times Chelsea faced United this season. With the extra centre back that a back three provides, the Blues will be more than comfortable patiently building from the back. Further, this United squad is not able to press in the same way that others have successfully given Chelsea trouble with, such as Spurs and, to a lesser extent, Liverpool.
Between United’s defensive woes and Chelsea’s ever-threatening attack, it’s tough to see the Reds picking up three points, despite playing at Old Trafford. Chelsea absorb pressure very well and will have no problem absorbing pressure from United. When a pass inevitably goes astray or is intercepted by the ever-present N’Golo Kante, Chelsea will break very fast, and it’s very likely one of their goals will come on the counter.
Even if United create several chances (easier said than done against Chelsea), their finishing has been poor this season, and it’s unlikely they’ll suddenly be clinical against the second best defense in the league. After what’s sure to be a chippy ninety minutes, Chelsea will come away with a comfortable 3-1 win.