A blockbuster weekend in the Premier League will see Manchester United travel to leaders Chelsea. The travelers are on a brilliant unbeaten run, having conquered the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City on their way. The hosts meanwhile, need 12 points from a possible 21 for their title confirmation.
Team News –
Chelsea are facing troubles in the striking department, striker Loic Remy a doubt along with the already injured top scorer Diego Costa. Remy is expected to start, with veteran Didier Drogba waiting in the wings if the Frenchman doesn’t recover in time.
Manchester United fans were delivered a bitter pill in Louis van Gaal’s press conference, when the Dutchman confirmed that Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Daley Blind and Michael Carrick will all miss the trip to London. Van Gaal still remains hopeful on Blind and Jones, though Carrick and Rojo surely miss out. Luke Shaw is fit enough to start, with Jonny Evans still serving his ban.
Key Battles –
Marouane Fellaini vs Kurt Zouma
When Manchester United last faced Chelsea, Marouane Fellaini was handed the job of stifling Cesc Fabregas, which he aptly carried out. Fast forward today, we might see Jose Mourinho play an extra defender just to nullify Fellaini, such has been the impact of the giant Belgian. Zouma on the other hand, has been impressive whenever called upon, and will have a tough outing against Fellaini. A battle of strength.
Eden Hazard vs Antonio Valencia –
Chelsea’s most dangerous and influential player, Eden Hazard is a game changer. The Belgian has hit new highs this season, and there’s no surprise that his extraordinary form has coincided with Chelsea’s title charge. United right-back Antonio Valencia has managed to keep Rafael out of the team, and he proved against Manchester City why van Gaal prefers him over the Brazilian. The Ecuadorian might have to restrict his attacking instincts in check if Hazard is to be kept quiet.
Wayne Rooney vs John Terry
Wayne Rooney is back to where he is suited best, as a striker. Although it seemed like the England captain faded against City, it was his intelligent movement between their centre-halves that allowed United’s left-hand-side expose the defense. The 29-year-old could start in a holding midfield role if Blind and Jones fail to overcome their injuries, but expect him to be unleashed up top otherwise.
Match Stats –
– Chelsea have lost just one of their last 12 Barclays Premier League home games against Manchester United.
– Manchester United have suffered more Premier League defeats against Chelsea than versus any other side (15).
– Chelsea have scored 100 goals in 47 games this season (2.13 per game) while United have 68 in 38 matches (1.79).
– Juan Mata has three goals and an assist in his last three Premier League games.
– Manchester United have 65 points, one more than they collected in the whole of 2013-14 (64).
Manager Quotes –
“Their squad is amazing, in numbers and quality. I sat down this week to analyse the opponents and I realise what they have. Van Gaal is a fantastic coach and they are more than ready. I consider him a big friend, but because of jobs, fighting for the same objectives, we are not speaking every week. The deep feeling towards a friend don’t change.”
Louis van Gaal
“I think they play at home, I think that Chelsea is satisfied with a draw. The question is how long their players can play in a discipline. We have four players injured from the last match, so that is not so good. Blind and Carrick can play the holding midfield position, so I don’t have any option there. So maybe I will have to play Rooney there. Other players can profit from the situation now.”
Predicted Line-ups –
Ramires will make way for the aforementioned Zouma, while Remy will replace Drogba.
Manchester United –
Blind will take up Carrick’s holding midfield role if he is fit enough, while the fit-again Shaw will slot in at left-back. Rooney might start in holding midfield if Blind is unable to shake off his injury.
Three wins would almost confirm Chelsea their title, so expect Chelsea to play for a draw. Mourinho is a shrewd operator, and despite United’s recent resurgence and Chelsea’s lack of bite, there is no way the Portuguese is losing this one.
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Image Courtesy: Guardian, Daily Mail, The Times.