Saturday, 24 February 2018

Match preview: United v Chelsea

It's second vs fourth at Old Trafford as United welcome the fading champions to Old Trafford after three successive away games in which the Reds endured mixed fortunes across three different competitions. We lost out to Newcastle in a tightly contested encounter, before the FA Cup win over Huddersfield followed by the goalless draw in Sevilla. This is a high profile clash with intruige and sub-plots aplenty, and all eyes will be focused on the touchline battle.

Jose and his combustible counterpart Antonio Conte have never got on that well, but their feuding hit acrimonious - and very public - heights in a war of words back in January. Given the volatile Conte's jack-in-the-box antics at the best of times, it could be a powderkeg situation. Jose, of course, got one over his former team the last time we met them at home, when he pulled off a tactical masterpiece to trump champions-elect Chelsea in April's 2-0 win. The Blues have a pyschological hold over United in west London, but they've only won once in their last seven visits to OT. Chelsea come into this one after a superb European display went unrewarded on Tuesday as Barcelona claimed the advantage in the Champions League through Lionel Messi's away goal after in-form Brazilian Willian had put them ahead in the second half.

The Reds were without Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Sevilla, but both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford made their returns as substitutes in midweek. Ander Herrera - who played such a pivotal role in the corresponding fixture last season - is set for a spell on the sidelines with a muscular injury. Eric Bailly could make his 50th appearance for the club on his return having not started since the trip to the Bridge on 5 November. For Chelsea, David Luiz, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ross Barkley are all out, but striker Alvaro Morata is available again. 
Jose played down the fact he faces his former club in this one, and said: "To play against Chelsea means less and less over the years, I left already a couple of years ago, and next season three years ago and the year later four years ago. The real meaning of it is that it's two of the best sides in England and two of the biggest clubs in the country playing one more match. That's it - the feeling of "I was once their manager" is disappearing step-by-step. This is always a big game, many times these were matches for the title and this time I think us and them would agree that is not the case. But we both play for the top four and it is always important regardless of what's at stake - last season they were fighting for the title, we weren't even in the top four but we saw what it meant when we won that match."

Form guide: United W L W L W D Chelsea W L L W W D 
Match odds: United 5/4 Draw 11/5 Chelsea 9/4
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Bradford)


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