It seems like a lifetime ago that Manchester United last played a football match. In fact it will be a little over two weeks by the time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side take to the field on Monday night after the Premier League’s first ever winter break.
Solskjaer has beaten Frank Lampard three times in their three previous managerial meetings, boasting a 100% record against his counterpart in the battle of two relative rookies. But Lampard can claim to be happier with his side’s season so far, with the Blues currently occupying fourth place, only two points ahead of United – surprise package Sheffield United!
We sit six points further back in eighth position and surely must win to keep alive any lingering hopes of reeling in the chasing pack. Solskjaer’s side have beaten Chelsea 4-0, in the league on the opening day, and 2-1 in the Carabao Cup thanks to Marcus Rashford’s stunning goal of the season contender. Yet we can’t beat the likes of West Ham and Burnley.
New loan signing Odion Ighalo is set to travel with the squad and will be involved, with the former Watford striker set to make his debut off the bench. He hasn’t played much football or even trained with the team since arriving from Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, so Solskjaer probably won’t throw him straight in.
With that in mind, here is how we think United will line-up for our second visit to Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
GK – David de Gea
Despite looking some way short of his best for much of the season, De Gea has kept two successive clean sheets in shutouts against dangerous attacking sides in Manchester City and Wolves. There’s no question that he’s been far from his usual self, but De Gea is still our undisputed number one and barring a late injury is a certainty to start on Monday. De Gea sat our last trip to SW5, with Sergio Romero deputising in that League Cup win back in October. Tammy Abraham or Michy Batshuayi will lead the line for Chelsea, but De Gea should still expect a busy evening.
RB – Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Wan-Bissaka has to play every game when fit and will continue in this position at Stamford Bridge. Has been deployed as a wing-back on occasions this season but we think Solskjaer will continue with the back four we saw against Wolves last time out. Wan-Bissaka is better as an out-and-out right back and will be tasked with shackling one of Pedro, Mason Mount, Willian or Christian Pulisic in another stern examination of his credentials.
CB – Victor Lindelof
Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are coming back into contention and will provide Solskjaer with added depth and cover to bolster the defence in the closing weeks of the season. This game is likely to come too soon for either of them, though and there’s no reason to break up a blossoming grit and guilt partnership. Lindelof and Maguire have played together in all but two of our league games this season and – after a run of 18 matches without a clean sheet – United have had three shut outs in six games.
CB – Harry Maguire (c)
Maguire has been improving game by game and United’s new captain was signed to flourish in games such as this one. Although he still has some way to go to justify his eye-popping £80m move, the former Leicester man is going from strength to strength although there remains a concern when it comes to dealing with set pieces. Chelsea are likely to try to hurt United in that area so Maguire will need to be at his best. As any player would, the price tag has weighed him down but he’s getting better and better.
LB – Brandon Williams
Although Luke Shaw came in for the goalless draw with Wolves and did well, Williams has shown why he should start week in week out. It depends how Solskjaer wants to play, whether he wants to utilise Shaw’s defensive ability or go with the more attacking ethos of a player enjoying a fine breakthrough season. The 19-year-old has played in some totemic tussles this season, featuring at Anfield, the Etihad and last time we played Chelsea away. He’s unlikely to be phased by another stiff challenge, up against the likes of Pedro, Willian and Callum Hudson – Odio, whoever gets the nod on his side of the pitch. Williams has rarely let Solskjaer down and we think he’ll come back in ahead of Shaw.
CM – Nemanja Matic
I’ve been this man’s biggest critic but credit where it’s due, he’s been nothing short of superb since coming back in to cover for the injured Scott McTominay. Speaking of which, ‘McSauce’ is back in training and traveled with the first team to Spain as he stepped up his recovery. The Chelsea tie will come too soon, though, so Matic – back from a one game ban – is expected to fill the void again against his old club, even if he does not seem central to Solskjaer’s long-term plans for the rebuild
CM – Fred
Another player who I have been harsh on but again he’s done well and has been our most improved player in the last few months. His box-to-box ability, energy, use of the ball and tenacious style has really caught the eye and you can tell he’s worked hard on adapting his game. Fair play to him. He’s been tasked with a big job in midfield due to United’s lack of options in that area but has finally started to show signs of the player we signed from Shakhtar. McTominay and Paul Pogba are nearing returns but not yet ready so Solskjaer has to stick with the Matic – Fred axis.
RW – Juan Mata
Another popular former Chelsea man, Mata remains a valued squad player and if it’s a choice between his or Andreas Pereira to start here, there’s only one winner. Despite his ageing years and lack of pace, Mata can unpick the tightest of locks and Lampard won’t need reminding of his former team mate’s match winning ability. Solskjaer could go with Mason Greenwood but seems likely to call on the experience of both of his thirty-somethings.
CAM – Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes was thrown straight in for his debut against Wolves and had a very impressive bow. For the first 65 minutes, I thought he was the best player on the pitch. He dropped a bit deeper and understandably faded a little bit, but we saw enough to know he has all the attributes to be a top player for this club. Chelsea will be another tough test for the neat and tidy playmaker, up against the metronomic N’golo Kante, dead eye Jorginho and effervescent Mateo Kovacic. Against Wolves, Bruno was brave, always wanted the ball, wasn’t afraid to take risks and could be seen organising and instructing his team-mates. That’s exactly what we need, can’t wait to see more of him here.
LW – Daniel James
Scored on his debut against Chelsea back on the opening weekend and made a blistering start to life at United. It seems like he’s been running on empty and through treacle the past few weeks, but hopefully this two weeks break will have done him the world of good. Burnout is the last thing we, or James, needs. He wasn’t supposed to be starting every game but has had to because there’s no one else. He is likely to be in direct opposition to his namesake, another hugely promising James in Chelsea’s full-back or wing-back, Reece.
CF – Anthony Martial
Odion Ighalo is waiting in the wings but will probably be on the bench. He’s an excellent option to throw on and give us something different in the last 20/25 minutes. Martial – capable of delight and despair in equal measure – will continue to keep his place here, though. His tendency to drift out wide in search of service seems to suggest he’s being asked to do a job he cannot do. Needs Marcus Rashford to get the best out of him. Barring the six-goal romp against Tranmere, United have only scored once in the league since Rashford’s injury against Wolves. Will the arrival of Ighalo and the additional competition for places he will bring lift Martial?
United have a strange ability to step it up against the bigger sides and have an impressive recent record against the Blues. As proven against Manchester City twice and being the only team to take points off Liverpool, our inconsistent season has not been hindered by the top teams. Instead, it’s against the lesser lights that we have struggled. As already mentioned, we’ve beaten Chelsea twice and Lampard’s side have had similar issues of inconsistency. As we return to action after a two-week hiatus, we have the potential to leave London with a result – even if a win might be a bit of a stretch in a key battle for the top four.
Chelsea 2-2 Manchester United