Mourinho magic needed to avoid Bridge of sighs:
There is plenty at stake in this game. Second-placed Chelsea will be keen to lay down a marker. A win would create a gap of ten points between the sides which, even at this early stage of the season, would leave United with a mountain to climb in their title aims.
It would also place more weight onto the shoulders of embattled United manager Jose Mourinho, the most-successful manager, of course, in Chelsea’s history.
Can he conjure up some of his old magic? Will United’s storming comeback against Newcastle in their last league match provide a catalyst for a change in fortune?
Chelsea are now unbeaten in eleven league and cup matches this season. They have scored two or more goals in seven of those matches. Eden Hazard is having a fine season, having scored seven goals in his last six Chelsea starts.
By contrast, United have won just one of their last five matches and have kept a clean sheet in just one of their eight league games this season, something that highlights Mourinho’s seemingly difficult task of identifying his best defenders, particularly in central defence.
Not so simple
Part of me feels that a vibrant Chelsea side should be able to dismantle an inconsistent United team and take advantage of the sense of general uncertainty at Old Trafford. But it’s not quite that simple.
Why? Because most people will not be expecting Man Utd to get a result at Stamford Bridge (they have won there in the league only twice this century, in 2002 and 2012).
That scenario may suit Mourinho. He is likely to ask his team to defend in numbers, shackle Eden Hazard, to counter-attack and to make the most of dead-ball situations. Fellaini and ex-Blue Matic may set up like a couple of bouncers denying access to a busy nightclub.
A possible downside is that Matic is nursing a back injury and may not be available for the game.
Mourinho will surely target David Luiz, who he does not rate highly as a defender, and he will draw comfort from the fact that Chelsea, despite having the lion’s share of possession, could only gain narrow Europa League victories over MOL Vidi and PAOK Salonika. Arsenal could have scored a hatful against them, West Ham missed a glorious chance that would surely have led to victory and Southampton missed a sitter that would have made it 1-0 to The Saints at St Mary’s despite strong early Chelsea pressure.
A win, or even a draw, for United, would dent the confidence of a Chelsea side that is, quite rightly, drawing compliments for its style of play. Maurizio Sarri’s footballing philosophy is joyful.
That, however, does not make them unbeatable and a wounded Mourinho may yet have a trick or two up his sleeve that can work in his favour in this type of game.
Rather than a Bridge of sighs for Jose, it may become one that charts a way across choppy waters.
Chelsea appear to have a clean bill of health.
For Man Utd, as mentioned earlier, Nemanja Matic is rated a doubt owing to a back injury. Jesse Lingard, however, may be available following a reported groin injury that has kept him out since September 22nd.
I’m finding it a hard match to call but I feel that both sides will score. Both teams to score is on offer at 4/5 with us and Man Utd may just be able to eke out a 1-1 draw (6/1).
As it’s a ‘Double The Odds On First Goalscorer Bets’ match with us, I’ll nominate Romelu Lukaku, another ex-Blue, who looks reasonably priced at 15/2 to score first.