Chelsea v Manchester United: Blues to cruise to victory

Manchester United may have exciting times ahead, but for now they are struggling, and Kevin Hatchard doesn't expect leaders Chelsea to be merciful...

Blue machine is running smoothly

Even without one of Europe's best strikers, Chelsea were able to demolish Juventus 4-0 in midweek, underlining that coach Thomas Tuchel is the real star of the operation.

Romelu Lukaku's injury issues have slightly tarnished his return to Stamford Bridge so far, but Chelsea have squad depth, competition for places and a rock-solid structure. They are top of their Champions League group, and they go into this weekend with a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Chelsea's defensive record is remarkable, and although individuals like Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger are outstanding, the Blues defend as a team. The European champions and Premier League leaders have leaked just four goals in the top flight, and two of those were penalties. To concede just two non-penalty goals in a 12-game stretch is extraordinary.

It helps that Chelsea have a top-class goalkeeper. Edouard Mendy has a dizzying save percentage of 93.8% (next on the list is Wolves' Jose Sa with just over 80%), and in terms of making saves he isn't expected to (post-shot xG), the data says Mendy is only below Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale on the list.

Lukaku was an unused substitute against Juventus, so could return to the starting XI here. Kai Havertz, N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic could all miss out, and Ben Chilwell might be out for the rest of the season after damaging his ACL.

Amidst chaos, United have found a sensible solution

Given their schmaltzy faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and a transfer policy that has often seemed to be based more on interactions on social media than interactions on the football pitch, Manchester United might have actually played a blinder by recruiting Ralf Rangnick as their interim manager. If they'll let him, the German could revolutionise a club that has suffered from a serious case of inertia.

At the time of writing, Rangnick's switch from Lokomotiv Moscow hasn't been fully finalised, but there aren't expected to be any problems.

Rangnick won't be in the dugout for the trip to Stamford Bridge, and he'll eventually take over a side that has been playing without any discernible plan with or without the ball. The midweek win at Villarreal in the Champions League was typical of the current side: they pressed sporadically and chaotically, were second-best for large spells in which David De Gea was forced to excel and had to rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to open the scoring after a mistake from the opposition. In fairness, Jadon Sancho excelled on the night, and deserved to score his maiden goal for the club.

Skipper Harry Maguire is suspended, and Raphael Varane is injured, so there are issues at the heart of defence. United have conceded 15 goals in their last five league matches, and their overall figure of 21 league goals conceded is in line with Infogol's Expected Goals figures, so it's not as if United have been unfortunate.

Luke Shaw is still a doubt because of a head injury, while Paul Pogba is definitely out. Bruno Fernandes was dropped in midweek, but could return here.

Price reflects current gulf

Chelsea are 1.64 in the Match Odds market, and while they are rightful favourites and I'll be backing them to win, that price shows how much the market thinks Manchester United have fallen. There is plenty of evidence for that - the Red Devils were wretched in defeats against Liverpool (5-0) and Manchester City (2-0), and it's not as if caretaker Michael Carrick is able or willing to change much from the Solskjaer era.

We can boost that price to 2.11 if we back the hosts -1.0 on the Asian Handicap. If Chelsea win by a single goal, our stake is returned, but a bigger win represents an odds-against success. If you look at Chelsea's nine league victories this season, that bet would have been successful in eight of them, with a 1-0 win at Brentford the only exception.

Another way to play it is to back Chelsea to win and Under 3.5 Goals on the Sportsbook at 11/8. That bet has landed in seven of Chelsea's nine PL wins this term.

Star forwards can get involved

If we look at the Sportsbook's #OddsOnThat section, there's an interesting bet available at 2/1. If Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo each have a shot on target, there are three corners apiece and a card apiece, we get a chunky winner. Lukaku will be raring to go against his former club, while Ronaldo has managed 12 shots on target in 10 PL games this term. Lukaku has managed six efforts on target in seven league outings.

In terms of corners won, both Chelsea and United are in the Premier League's top six, and even in their 5-0 drubbing by Liverpool, United still won three corners.

Cards might be the trickiest bit. United have picked up 26 cautions, while Chelsea have a league-low 13. However, we only need the Blues to pick up one yellow or red card, something they've done in their last three league matches. Both teams picked up yellow cards when these sides met at Stamford Bridge in February, and the same was true in the reverse fixture.

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