After recent losses to top-tier opposition in Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, both teams will be looking to bounce back in this FA Cup fifth round fixture.
Chelsea were utterly embarrassed with their performance against Pep Guardiola’s men at the Etihad, which left them outside of the top four and with work to do. Maurizio Sarri failed to show his pragmatic side and was on the receiving end of a humiliating defeat.
Manchester United, on the other hand, might have lost at Old Trafford against PSG, but it was not overly unexpected, even with numerous injuries to the Parisians. Thomas Tuchel had a clear plan in nullifying United’s attacking threats and the injuries to Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial caused a lack of speed throughout the team.
Both clubs are in need of a win and to progress into the quarter finals, as well as giving them the advantage mentally in the race for a top four finish in the Premier League.
The history of Stamford Bridge
For one reason or another, the Red Devils have struggled to beat the Blues at Stamford Bridge since the turn of the century. Remarkably, they have only managed to win twice in 17 years in West London, with none of those coming since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Stamford Bridge has been a bogey ground for United and, no matter what type of form Chelsea are in, the Blues always rise to the occasion and put on a valiant performance.
Gonzalo Higuain is more than likely to start and will have hopes of having more of an impact than he did against United’s across-town rivals. Flanked by Pedro and Eden Hazard, Sarri will be hoping that he has got through to his players in the last week and will see them carrying out his strict instructions.
Manchester United’s weakness is through their full backs, which is why Ander Herrera – as he usually does – will have to double up and help out Ashley Young at right back when facing the Belgium international. The Spanish midfielder did an excellent job a couple of seasons ago when man-marking Hazard, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could ask for a similar job on Monday night.
The Blues are undefeated in their last 10 home matches at Stamford Bridge against Manchester United, showing their dominance against the Red Devils.
Romelu Lukaku’s importance
With the injuries to Lingard and Martial, Solskjaer needs to show his pragmatism in how United play with a severe lack of pace running through the team.
Romelu Lukaku is likely to be brought in to start, just as he did in the last round against Arsenal, and will need to deliver his best performance of the season if his team are to record a result away from home.
Against the Gunners, the Belgian often switched from a central role to out wide, occupying the wing and firing crosses into the box successfully. With the lack of interchangeability with Mata potentially on the right wing, Lukaku is going to have to ensure that his hold-up play is good enough to bring others into play.
There is no doubt about it that Lukaku can punish any team in the country on his day, but he has struggled for confidence this season and looked bulkier than he ever did at Everton. Saying that, there have been glimpses – especially against Unai Emery’s side – where he shone, which is exactly what Solskjaer needs to see against his former club Chelsea.
The Blues will be tightly marking the Belgian centre forward, which should free up space for Marcus Rashford to go in behind the defence and for Mata to play in between the lines. It is going to be a testing night for Lukaku, but one in which he needs to come through with flying colours.
While Chelsea have some world-class players on the pitch, United’s team and confidence under the Norwegian manager should not be undervalued, even if they did lose to PSG.
One loss against a European juggernaut does not make for a bad team, which is why Solskjaer will want to keep morale high and make sure his players leave absolutely everything on the pitch.
This game is likely to be ferocious at times and even end-to-end with both defences haemorrhaging goals this season, which should make it a must watch for fans and neutrals alike.
If Solskjaer is to stamp his authority on the permanent position over his competitors out there, a win would certainly saw the Manchester United board into thinking he is the front runner come the end of the season.
Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United
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