Coming into this Saturday evening clash, much has been written in the sports pages about Manchester United’s transformation from a team treading water in fourth place back into a dominant force in the Premier League. Six wins on the bounce, including impressive wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and most recently Manchester City has United fans salivating at the new brand of attractive football on display.
Chelsea have made less headlines of late. As Manchester City's limp attempt to retain the title has faded away, most observers have dubbed Chelsea the champions elect. Chelsea have met these expectations with narrow victories over inferior opposition.
The Tactical Battle
Manchester United will not change a winning formula against Chelsea. The current 4-3-3 formation has worked against all comers so far and until LVG is forced to change the system or gains enough faith in United's fringe players to rest one or two of the twelve players he has started in the last month, nothing will change. Therefore Manchester United will continue to press as a unit, defend high up the pitch and stay compact as a team. In attack United will be patient and maintain possession as much as possible while attempting to utilise one of their two midfield units to fashion an opening. Against Liverpool it was the trio of Valencia, Herrera and Mata on the right that did the damage. On the other side of the pitch Fellaini, Young and Blind did the damage against Manchester City. When United have been pressed at the back De Gea has done an excellent job of finding Fellaini further up the pitch thus relieving pressure on Carrick and the centre backs as outlets. The only change United have made in the last four games has been bringing in Rojo for Jones against Villa. This is a change that Van Gaal could make again in order to mask the athletic deficiencies of Daley Blind.
Mourinho’s tactical approach in big games is usually reactionary. Instead of imposing his team’s style on the opposition expect Mourinho to set up his Chelsea team in a manner that will seek to stifle Manchester United’s attack at all costs. This tendency is further compounded by the fact that Diego Costa will not be available due to a hamstring injury. Look for Mourinho to revert to a variation of the defensive tactics he deployed against Manchester City early in the season and Liverpool at Anfield at the tail end of last season. The difference being this is a home game, so while Mourinho will be happy to concede possession to United, he will not want to concede the result and will therefore look to exploit Manchester United's weaknesses. United have continued to be vulnerable when attacked at pace and despite improved defensive performances, United have shown a tendency to lose players making runs from deep. Eden Hazard can take advantage of Valencia's attacking tendencies and lack of defensive instincts by making runs on the left, both on and off the ball. On the other wing Blind's lack of pace could be used as Chelsea's primary source of success on the break. I expect for Chelsea to keep the same team that started against QPR which means using Oscar off the bench in an attempt to steal a late goal as the game opens up a bit. Manchester United have struggled against teams who have set out to defend, leading to disappointing results, particularly away from home.
The Sub Plots
Mourinho hosts the manager he worked under at Barcelona.
Mata returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his £37m move to United last January.
Result - Draw