From marquee to footnote. This is the tale of this Manchester United vs Chelsea game.
United have bigger fish to fry, the primary of stopping Manchester City’s treble by winning against them in the FA Cup final. UEFA Champions League qualification is almost sealed, with only a point needed from their last two home fixtures. Meanwhile, Chelsea look like they’re waiting for the season to finish so the points table can reset to zero.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any exciting storylines to follow. There always are when Man Utd and Chelsea meet.
Here are five things to watch out for-
Newcastle open the door
With Newcastle drawing against Leicester City, the door is open for Manchester United to finish third. Win both the remaining games, and they will overtake the Magpies.
Does it matter in the financial sense? No, because the increase in prize money from 4th to 3rd is £2.2 million. However, this is a squad in development, and finishing as high as possible in a gruelling first season under Erik ten Hag will help the confidence and provide momentum next season.
Erik ten Hag has always shown he’s not one to take any fixture lightly. United fans could disagree, but the chances are that he puts out strong teams for both Chelsea and Fulham games. If so, United will have a great shot at finishing as the “best of the rest” this season. A huge improvement from where the club stood after two chastening defeats to start the season.
Can this fixture wake up from its stupor?
Manchester United vs Chelsea is generally a clash of titans. Two teams who are near the top, fighting to secure every point in a thoroughly exciting affair. However, their last five games have been anything but exciting.
The last five games between these two have all been draws, with goals a scarce commodity. The scorelines read- 1-1, 1-1, 1-1, 0-0, and 0-0.
That’s six goals scored across both teams, in five fixtures. No other fixture between any of the general top-six clubs has been quite as dull an affair as this one in the last 2-3 years.
With Chelsea playing for nothing more than wounded pride, and United needing to sharpen their clinical edge after wasteful performances in front of goal, don’t hold your breath on this fixture being any different.
It would be a pleasant surprise if this game was a goal fest.
Finding shooting boots
Manchester United’s goal difference of 11 is the worst among the current top-six. They’ve scored just 52 goals in 36 games, and won by a 1-0 scoreline seven times. While keeping clean sheets is generally a mark of champions, in United’s case, it is a case of the defence being overworked because the attack has lost its shooting boots.
United consistently create high-quality chances but need plenty to score one. After Rashford’s 16, their second-highest goalscorer in the league is Bruno Fernandes, who has struck six times in 35 games. United have scored 45 goals from open play this season from an xG of 56, a remarkable underperformance and one that has led to Erik ten Hag urgently looking at Manchester United’s striker targets.
Chelsea might prefer to lock down the fort and escape with a draw. In that case, United will need to make the most of the few clear-cut chances they get.
Chelsea- A model of what not to do
With United under a takeover process of their own, their prospective owners would do well to look at Chelsea and take their model under the new owners as a guide of what not to do.
Todd Boehly has spent almost half a billion pounds, only to be on their third manager of the season, set to finish in the bottom half for the first time in the Premier League.
A scattergun approach to the transfer market has given way to a mixed bag of players in the dark about where they stand at the club.
Whether it is the Qataris or Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Chelsea have given prospective new owners at any club a template of how to avoid failure by spectacularly falling apart themselves.
FA Cup Final team shaping up
At full strength, it is becoming obvious what Erik ten Hag thinks his ideal team is. With Marcus Rashford expected to return from injury, this could be the dress rehearsal for the team that takes the field against Manchester City in the FA Cup final.
The last game of the season, against Fulham, has less than a 48-hr turnaround time so rotation is imperative. Therefore, expect the big guns to get plenty of match-fitness against Chelsea. Barring any late injuries or clarity on Rashford and Martial’s status, expect the team that starts this game to also be tasked with stopping the Manchester City juggernaut.
Predicted lineup- De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Varane, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Fernandes, Rashford, Antony, Martial.
why Martial – why give him another evening stroll?