Finally, the winter break is over and Manchester United are back in action on Monday night, away at Chelsea in a critical match if there is any hope of finishing in the top four and securing a Champions League spot next season.
Although United haven’t played in 16 days, other Premier League teams saw action and currently, United and Wolves are tied at 8th place at 35 points. Above us are Everton (36pts), Tottenham (37pts), Sheffield United (39pts), and Chelsea (41pts).
As you can see, the match on Monday is practically a must-win match for United. A win would bridge the gap to three points for that 4th place Champions League spot, one point below Sheffield United who aren’t in action until Feb 22nd.
With the big announcement Friday night concerning Manchester City being banned from Champions League play for the next two years, that means 5th place in the Premier League is now a qualifying spot for next years Champions League competition.
United have won just three games away from home this season and the fixture list doesn’t give much hope in terms of a top-four finish, with upcoming trips to Tottenham and Leicester after the match on Monday. Of course, that can all change with a win at Stamford Bridge.
Thankfully, with a long break United are getting healthier, but speaking at the pre-match press conference, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave an update on some of the injured players.
“Don’t think we’ll get anyone back for the Chelsea game ready,” Solskjaer said via ManUtd.com. “Scotty, Axel, Tim, they didn’t join too much so are not ready to play in that game. And Paul is not ready, of course.”
Pogba, who underwent surgery in early January, was supposed to be out for ‘three or four weeks’ but the Frenchman has been out for over six already. McTominay has been sidelined since the 4-1 win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day, with knee ligament damage, and Pogba has not played since the same date.
Nemanja Matic is available again after serving a one-match suspension in the goalless draw with Wolves, and Odion Ighalo is expected to be named in the squad.
Ighalo’s situation is very unique because he didn’t travel with the team to Spain and was forced to train away from United because of fears over the coronavirus. Today he linked up with his new team-mates ahead of their trip to London.
Solskajer spoke about Ighalo playing, as quoted by the club’s official website, saying: “Odion, we hope, one, adding that striker will give us a different type of striker and two, it gives us a chance in games to rest Antho (Martial) or Mason, maybe play in a different way.”
“There’ll always be questions when there’s a 0-0 if you don’t score,” Solskjaer added. “We were playing against a very, very good side as well, and at the end of December/January, Anthony’s played loads of games, Mason’s played loads of games, we lacked that little bit of spark, Bruno (Fernandes) just new into the group.”
“As a striker, you get thrown on out there and it might be that he’ll have to come off the bench to give us a goal. I never said that he was going to be ready to play on Monday. He’ll be involved with us and travel down with us. Now he’s out of that two-week [incubation] precaution period we made, let’s see if he’s involved or not.”
Ighalo hasn’t played since Shanghai Shenhua’s final game of the 2019 Chinese Super League campaign on December 1.
News ahead of the match
· Chelsea Manager Frank Lampard confirmed during his Friday press conference that American winger Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek won’t be in the squad but Tammy Abraham appears to be ready to return to the lineup.
· United have beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this season, winning 2-1 in the Carabao Cup in October.
· Similar to United, Chelsea haven’t been on the greatest of form either, winning just two times in the last seven league games, including the last three Premier League matches.
· Chelsea have only picked up three points in just five of the 12 league games they’ve hosted in 2019/20.
· Solskjaer is unbeaten in four games against the Blues since taking charge at United (winning three and drawing one).