“Kante going all the way through! Ohhhh, It gets better and better for Chelsea. Talk about rubbing Mourinho’s nose in it.”
Those were the words that resonated through television sets across the world a little over a year ago as Chelsea handed Manchester United a lesson in football at The Bridge. For the first time since that fateful day in Barcelona when a side managed by Pep Guardiola dismantled Real Madrid, had Mourinho been truly humiliated in a game of football.
A year later and an EPL title under his belt, Conte is all set for another massive showdown with Mourinho on Sunday. It could have a big impact on how the title run in will take shape this season.
United’s 4-0 hammering under the hands of Conte at Mourinho’s second home sparked a defensive makeover at Manchester United not many clubs can rival. Since then, United have only lost 3 matches out of 39 in the Premier League, conceding a mere 21 goals in over a year. An impressive stat , but one which is hardly reflective of the true state of being in the United corner last season as they finished a poor 6th in the League Standings. Antonio Conte on the other hand with his inherent pragmatism managed to revitalize a poor Chelsea start to the 16/17 campaign and rally his team to a memorable Premier League title in 2017. The game at Stamford Bridge proved a to be a springboard upon which Chelsea leapfrogged into a positive state of mind and capitalized on their form to romp home and secure the title.
In order to prepare them mentally, Conte will want to give out a rallying cry to his boys. It’s evident that Chelsea will once again see this fixture as a turning point in their season. However, there are a few key differences in the mentality of the United side that they faced last season at The Bridge when compared to the side they will be facing off on Sunday. Let us have a look at what we can expect from this mouth-watering clash and the key battles that could define the outcome of the game this weekend.
It was a mixed bag of an October for United leading up to this match. 4 points were dropped in the League, which saw them fall 5 behind City. However, the club has managed to secure vital momentum with wins over Tottenham, Swansea (in the League Cup) and Benfica (Champions league) ahead of the monumental clash against The Blues. The football has not been very eye catching or flashy, in fact United have been pedestrian going forward without the likes of Paul Pogba and Fellaini. That being said, nothing must be taken away from United’s astute defensive performances.
However critical fans and pundits have been of United in September and October, Mourinho has been able to rotate his squad and assemble a team that is very difficult to break down. Barring two defensive mistakes against Huddersfield, it has been a challenge for opponents across all competitions to create clear goal scoring opportunities against this side. One has to attribute that to the resurgence of Phil Jones and Ashley Young who have barely a put a foot wrong in the month of October.
The match against Chelsea will be in essence the hardest challenge for United this season as form and stats go out of the window when these sides meet. A noisy crowd at the Bridge will do everything possible to recreate the atmosphere that helped Chelsea dismantle United last season. Chelsea will be set up to win and that will provide for a tough challenge for Mourinho’s men. Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard on their days can absolutely annihilate any team in this world and The Red Devils will need to be extremely careful when they face off the talented duo who have developed a telepathic understanding this season. Mourinho’s record against the top 6 away from home (as United coach) is utterly disappointing and there will be an added incentive to set that record straight.
Marcus Rashford, Nemanja Matić, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial will be key men for United going forward and if more than one of them are on the top of their game, it could get quite difficult for the shaky Chelsea defence.
What is it about Chelsea and the season after a League triumph? Why do they always stutter after a very successful campaign in the league? Some would say, it is a challenge to keep up the level of hunger and desire to repeat the feat the following year but this season there is more to it than just desire and hunger. Fans have pointed out a few crucial points this season that needs to be addressed fast, before it gets too late. And what better way to start than the crunch match against United on Sunday. We won’t be focusing on the transfer activity, as that is something that cannot be altered before the match.
A lack of a stable defensive partnership at the back has been highlighted as the season has progressed. Suspensions to David Luiz and Gary Cahill haven’t helped the Chelsea boss. A constant shuffling of the centre backs have made it difficult for Rüdiger, Luiz and Cahill to form a trustworthy understanding. This was brought to light in the midweek clash against Roma where the Italians tormented a Chelsea side that was all over the place. The back three will need to put in a hard and composed shift to monitor the pace of Rashford and Martial, while at the same time show ample strength to tackle the flat track bully in Lukaku.
Kanté’s injury during the International break has been another setback that laid bare the problems a team can face without a powerhouse of midfielder in the “Makélélé Mould”, constantly breaking up play and starting devastating counter attacks. Bakayoko and Fàbregas are two supremely talented individuals but together they have failed to make a mark on the side. Cesc Fàbregas might still have his passing statistics to be proud of, but without an outlet mirroring the likes of Diego Costa, he has not been able to play a crucial role in setting up goals.
Bakayoko on the other hand has given the ball away far too often and has not intercepted play enough, highlighting the importance of N’golo Kanté. Both of them will have to up their game against United for Chelsea to get anything more than a draw. However, The Blues’ manager will hope Kanté will be able to play a part on Sunday.
Chelsea will bank on the attacking prowess of Hazard, Morata and Pedro, who have shown glimpses of brilliance over the season. Their constant running and technical ability will prove to be an acid test for this United side.
Morata vs Bailly
Post Morata’s injury, he has found it hard to make a direct impact on play.Having said that his technical ability in the air will need to be monitored and it is very likely that Mourinho will deploy Eric Bailly for this role. Bailly’s no nonsense approach to defending has won him rave reviews in his short time in England, and he will be geared up to make amends for the poor show at Stamford Bridge last season. However, any lapse in concentration and Alvaro Morata could punish Bailly and United to devastating effect.
Lukaku vs Rüdiger
Romelu Lukaku is undergoing his first dry spell as a United player. Paul Scholes has attributed this fact to Paul Pogba’s absence and true as it might sound, Lukaku will have another chance to prove his critics wrong on Sunday (with or without Pogba).
There was a desire to overcome that when he stepped up to take the spot kick against Benfica in mid-week, but Mourinho had other ideas. There is an intensity to which Lukaku is chasing his goal at the moment, and that spot kick might have put that to rest. As things stand, Lukaku will be geared up like never before to break his drought and get that crucial goal.
That decision to not let Lukaku take the spot kick might have been the single most important Man-Management decision Mourinho has taken this season. Antonio Rüdiger will need to channel his best defensive traits and abilities into this match. If he is able to frustrate Lukaku for the entire duration of the game, there is a good chance United come out with nothing more than a draw.
Rashford v Azpilicueta
Cesar Azpilicueta, a Chelsea fan favourite is undergoing a below par season this year. However, a solid shift on Sunday by Chelsea’s talisman could not only give the club 3 crucial points but also change the mood in the dressing room and the atmosphere among fans. He will be tasked with the important role of shutting Marcus Rashford down on the right side of Chelsea’s defence. Rashford’s pace and trickery will be something Azpilicueta will be more than aware of. In March this year, despite Chelsea overcoming United in the FA Cup, there were glimpses of what Rashford could do if given space and time on the flanks, and Azpilicueta will have to be on the top of his game to counter Rashford’s threat.
Hazard v Jones.
The battle that could could make or break the match. Eden Hazard and Phil Jones have been their club’s best players in October. Hazard traditionally starts on the left flank, but has this uncanny knack of drifting all around the penalty box and draw out defenders which creates space behind the defence. His trickery and vision will be cause for concern for Mourinho. Not only that, it seems as though Eden Hazard has found his scoring boots as he has netted 5 times in his previous 6 appearances for club and country.
Phil Jones on the other hand is in the form of his life .His decision making, positional sense and tackling have been up there with the best. He has been the leader of that Manchester United defence this season – starting all 10 Premier League games in a team that has conceded just four goals, a record which is second only Barcelona in the major European leagues. Read more about his new found form here.
It will be interesting to see if and how he is able to prevent Hazard from setting Chelsea alight. It is very likely that only one of them will triumph in this key match up. And whoever does, his team is likely to come out as the eventual winners of the contest.
Chelsea – Courtois, Azpilicueta, Rüdiger, Luiz, Cahill, Alonso, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Pedro, Morata, Hazard
United – De Gea,Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Smalling, Young, Matić, Hererra, Mkhitaryan, Lukaku, Rashford
Managerial Head to Head
Jose Mourinho has come up against his Chelsea successor 4 times before and Conte edges the H to H 2 games to 1.
Atlanta 1 – 1 Inter (Serie A )
Chelsea 4 – 0 United (Premier League)
Chelsea 1 – 0 United ( FA Cup)
United 2 – 0 Chelsea (Premier League)
Past 5 Meetings between Chelsea and United
28 Dec 2015 Manchester United v Chelsea 0-0 Premier League
07 Feb 2016 Chelsea v Manchester United 1-1 Premier League
23 Oct 2016 Chelsea v Manchester United 4-0 Premier League
13 Mar 2017 Chelsea v Manchester United 1-0 FA Cup
16 Apr 2017 Manchester United v Chelsea 2-0 Premier League
Predictions – This match is one of the hardest to call this weekend. History is on Chelsea’s side whereas United pip Chelsea on form at the moment. Jose Mourinho will be back at The Bridge and do everything possible to not lose , whereas Chelsea on the other hand cannot afford to not win. Expect a match where possession will be dominated by the home-side with the odd counter attack by United here and there.
Final score – Chelsea 0 – 0 United.
Conte rendition via Bleacher Report
Jose Mourinho Rendition via Miles Monaghan
Kante scoring image Via dailymail
Martial image via Dailymirror
Chelsea vs Roma Image via BBC
Kanté vs Bakayoko comparison via whoscored
Bailly vs Rüdiger comparison via whoscored
Hazard and Jones’ stats via Sky Sports
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