Chelsea are being made to wait this weekend, as they play in the final Premier League fixture before the international break. The Blues face Manchester United in the second of Sunday’s massive double header, one which could prove crucial to the title race. The Blues are hoping to get themselves back in contention for top spot with a result against the second placed side, but they’ve already come up short against Man City this term. There’s a nine point gap between the reigning champions and the current leaders, but can they cut in to that before the squad heads on international duty?
After the midweek loss in Roma, Chelsea need to go off on a high before the break. This has been a troubled spell for the Blues, who this time last year went through October and November without dropping points in the league. This time around, things have been quite different. The performances have been far from the standard required, leaving Conte facing questions over his future. Can the Italian do anything to silence the critics this week, or will Jose Mourinho get one over him once again?
Team News: Conte has Kante on the Fast Track to Recovery
It seems like Conte’s response to the shambles in Rome is to rush N’Golo Kante back into the side. The Frenchman has been an obvious absentee in recent weeks, as he does a job few in world football can accomplish. Without Kante’s energy and positioning, this Chelsea team just aren’t the same. Conte will be hoping his return improves them defensively, but Kante coming back frees up a change in formation. Conte should have the options to go with a 3-5-2 set up this weekend, which should make the champions much tougher to break down than they were in Rome.
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has one kind of approach in big games like this; don’t lose. The former Chelsea boss is well known for parking the bus in big games in England, and it seems like he’s becoming even more conservative as he ages. The way his side frustrated Liverpool and Tottenham last month was impressive, but United were clearly lacking an edge. The absence of Paul Pogba continues to leave United a little short, and he’s not returning any time soon it seems. The midfielder is out of this trip, which gives Conte’s likely three man midfield the edge in the middle of the park.
Manchester United Form
Manchester United have been solid for the most part, losing just once all season. That defeat came against Huddersfield on the road, which makes them a little nervy ahead of this trip. That’s probably why Mourinho refused to let the shackles off his team at Anfield earlier in the season, and why he kept things so tight at home to Tottenham. Those two matches failed to capture the imagination of United’s fans, and neither did the two wins over Benfica in the Champions League.
However, it’s difficult to argue with United’s defensive record. Oddly, the four goals they conceded came in trips to two separate teams, meaning they’ve kept a clean sheet in 80% of their league matches so far. Having shipped just one goal in four Champions League games. The Red Devils are obviously a solid defensive unit, even if they’re a bit dull to watch going forwards.
Chelsea v Manchester United Head to Head
The three meetings between these sides last season were all won by the home side, but things got gradually less impressive for Chelsea over the season. Their 1-0 win over United in the FA Cup was a really tight contest, and it took them a long time to break down 10 men. Meanwhile, the loss at Old Trafford saw Mourinho freeze out Hazard and nullify Chelsea, a tactic which others have adopted this season.
- Man United 2-0 Chelsea, Apr 2017
- Chelsea 1-0 Man United, Mar 2017
- Chelsea 4-0 Man United, Nov 2016
- Chelsea 1-1 Man United, Feb 2016
- Man United 0-0 Chelsea, Dec 2015
- Under 2.5 Goals – 4/6 with Betfair
- Draw – 9/4 with Betfred
Chelsea may be coming off the back of a nightmare result, but they’re priced at 29/20 with Bet365 to win this clash. Meanwhile, United are further out at 2/1 with Coral, but they’re priced at 8/15 with Ladbrokes to avoid defeat this weekend. Clearly the bookies are struggling to pick a winner between these two, which isn’t surprising in such a big game. Can either of these two grind out the result they need, or will this clash end up a stalemate?
The big worry for Antonio Conte has to be that his side are struggling at the back. If they put in a defensive display like they did in Rome, then there’s no way back against this United side. The champions need to be just as solid as United defensively, or else they’re going to suffer another defeat here. That is why we see Conte turning to the 3-5-2 set-up which they’ve used in big games already this season. Having lacked enough central midfielders for that system in Rome, Kante’s return changes things for the champions. They should be able to shore up the defence with more bodies in midfield, with a forward player likely to miss out on their place.
That should give us a really tight game on Sunday, and our tips reflect that. Three of Chelsea’s last four home games in the league have seen under 2.5 goals scored, and we see a similarly low scoring contest here. Both sides need to set up not to lose, which should result in a game of few chances. We think under 2.5 is great value at 4/6 with Betfair, while we’re backing these two to cancel each other out and share the points. The draw can be backed at 9/4 with Betfred here, and that seems like the most likely outcome between these two.