Ahead of gameweek 26, Manchester United shockingly sit in ninth-place and six points away from the top four positions, as they take on Frank Lampard’s Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge on Monday night. Given that there are only two league wins that separate both teams from one another, it does show the how competitive as well as how inconsistent the Premier League has been this campaign.
There are no doubts that both sides will be showing their energy and work rate on and off the ball along with the intention of securing the three points to help their side move a step forward to playing Champions League football next season. A top four finish for both teams would help them target the world class players in the summer window, in order for them to become title contenders.
Most importantly, this would be the perfect opportunity for the Red Devils to mark their stamp and also turn their away form around, having only won three games away from Old Trafford and have picked up just the 12 points out of a potential 36, whilst Chelsea’s record at home has been quite on and off with nine other teams having a better home record than them.
It’s time to look at the three key battles that can decide the outcome of this fixture…
Daniel James vs Cesar Azpilicueta
With Marcus Rashford on the sidelines for a couple of months along with Anthony Martial being really off form for the last month or so, the main attention and focus on the go-to-man will look to be Daniel James, who is always a handful with his incredible burst of pace and movement in the final third of the pitch. He may lack the final quality when needed the most, but there is a huge certainty that he will be the dangerman out on the flanks and mainly when he cuts through into the middle.
James will be in for a skin-tight and a difficult clash with Cesar Azpilicueta, who is now being utilised as a left-back due to the rise of youngster Reece James in the right-back position. The Spaniard is known to be one of the most complete defenders within the league, having played as a centre back, left back and right back throughout the last couple of years. Given his experience and exceptional positioning defensively, it would be no surprise to see him keeping Daniel James in his back pocket.
Tammy Abraham vs Harry Maguire
Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham is having quite the season and especially in his first full campaign as a regular starter, as he has played on loan for the likes of Aston Villa, Swansea City and Bristol City in recent years, in order for him to gain the intelligence and understanding before he plays in the top flight of English football. And now he is on double figures in league goals, notching 13 in 24 league appearances, with only six players in the Premier League that have more goals than the 22-year-old.
Abraham has the capability to play as a target man and also as a poacher, when you consider his aerial ability as well as how he is in the right place at the right time, and he will be up against none other than Harry Maguire, who is starting to be seen as Manchester United’s best centre-back. Despite his poor performances and lack of consistency towards the end of last year, he has than more than enough to turn his form around, as the side have conceded only six goals in 10 games in all competition.
Bruno Fernandes vs Jorginho
When you see the lack of options that Solskjaer has within midfield, remembering that Paul Pogba is still a few weeks away from returning and Scott McTominay has just returned to regular training, It will mean that Bruno Fernandes will have to guide the team and show in a big match that he is the real deal. After a bright display against Wolves at home, there should not be many worries for the Red Devils of if he will be a flop or can he handle the intensity and physicality of English football.
On the other hand, for Chelsea, Jorginho will be the individual to keep an eye out for, someone who dictates the play deep in his own half and is able to pull out the much needed passes to the his teammates on the flanks and through the middle. The Italian deep-lying playmaker has been proving his critics and the English media wrong since moving from Serie A to the Premier League, as he has shown the class and composure in playing as the deepest player in the midfield trio, which is not a straightforward job for a player like him who lacks the required physicality and acceleration or pace.