Chelsea v Man Utd
Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Match Odds: Chelsea 2.60, Man Utd 3.20, The Draw 3.30.
Mourinho to park the bus?
This feels like the showpiece game of the weekend on a genuine Super Sunday - but big matches involving Jose Mourinho's Manchester United have generally been somewhat tedious, and unfortunately this has all the ingredients for a slow, attritional game of football.
Mourinho's Manchester United are generally highly negative away from hoe against the big boys, while Antonio Conte's Chelsea defended atrociously away at Roma in midweek, and he is likely to respond by becoming more cautious here. This might be another contest where the two sides wait for the other to take the initiative, depending primarily upon the counter-attack.
Both managers have a series of selection dilemmas. Conte, having been very consistent with his starting XI last season, now finds himself with various problems across the pitch, and is likely to opt for a defensive, no-nonsense XI here.
The problems at Roma were primarily in the back three, with Antonio Rudiger making an awful mistake and the trio of he, David Luiz and Gary Cahill dragged across the pitch in comical fashion in the second half. Rudiger is likely to be omitted, with Cahill returning to the left of the trio and Cesar Azpilicueta reverting to right-sided centre-back after a poor showing at wing-back.
Marcos Alonso will continue on the left, with Davide Zappacosta in line for a start in the continued absence of Victor Moses. In midfield, Conte will be desperate for N'Golo Kante to be fit for a return, which seems likely. Cesc Fabregas' positional indiscipline was a problem in Rome, so expect Tiemoue Bakayoko to return alongside him.
Then comes Conte's other dilemma - should be play the 3-4-3 system that has been Chelsea's default for the last year, or give the 3-5-2 another outing? The latter would allow him to use Fabregas in a floating role between the lines, and could give Eden Hazard greater license to drift across the pitch away from Manchester United's man-marking. Alvaro Morata will lead the line.
Mourinho has a formation dilemma of his own, having played both 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 in recent weeks. The 3-5-2 would more effectively 'match' Chelsea's system, but Mourinho successfully deployed a very defensive-minded 4-2-3-1 against Chelsea last season and may try something similar here.
That would involve playing a narrow back four, with the fullbacks, possibly Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young told to track Hazard and Pedro Rodriguez if Chelsea play 3-4-3. There would then be two defensive-minded wingers following Chelsea's wing-backs all the way into the defensive line, effectively forming a back six. Marcus Rashford might be used on one flank, with Ashley Young potentially playing on the opposite side with Matteo Darmian coming into the side at full-back.
Herrera to man-mark Hazard?
Mourinho's midfield duo will surely be Nemanja Matic, keen to show his former employers what they're missing, and Ander Herrera, who did an excellent man-marking job on Hazard in these clubs' last meeting, and will be likely tasked with marking him again.
Mourinho may be able to count upon the return of Paul Pogba - it would be a surprise, but he was coy on the Frenchman's fitness levels when asked at a press conference on Thursday. He would slot in at the top of the midfield trio, probably in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Romelu Lukaku will lead the line - another keen to put on a show against his former club - although he'll frequently be outnumbered three-against-one, and isn't in good goalscoring form.
It feels like this game might be won and lost down the flanks, with both sides filling the centre with combative players and possibly omitting their most creative players. But with Mourinho probably attempting to nullify Chelsea's wing-backs rather than attacking them, it could be pretty dire. The game should open out after the break, but I'll back a half-time 0-0 at 2.10.
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
It’s obvious that all is not well at the Bridge, rumours around the manager’s position and speculation about dressing room unrest, let alone a midweek hammering at the hands of Roma in the Champions League. It certainly isn’t the best preparation heading into a massive home game against title rivals.
United’s preparation though will also be hindered by the fact that their manager will be in court in Madrid on Friday. Last season United were swept aside by the would-be Champions 4-0, a game that Jose Mourinho was less than impressed with the touchline antics of Antonio Conte.
Chelsea know they are already a little bit off the pace in the title race and defeat to a title contender would be a major blow. Add to that, we have seen Mourinho’s attitude in tough away games lately, where he makes it a priority not to lose the game.
A draw wouldn’t be a bad result for either side but they will be conscious (depending what has happened at the Etihad earlier) that they may lose further ground to title favourites Manchester City.
Chelsea look a little too big to me priced at 2.60, I had them nearer 2.30 but I think the draw looks a major player today. However, I’m not too keen on backing that outcome in the Match Odds market at a lowly 3.25. Instead I would rather take on the higher priced score draws and dutch back 0-0 at 9.40 and 1-1 @ 7.00, that should give approx odds of 4.00.