The Game Of The Weekend

 

Football image
STILL the best ‘football on pitch’ google image that no money can buy

Chelsea Vs Manchester United

Saturday 12.30pm GMT

Shown on a TV channel you know and online streams you don’t.

Jose Mourinho’s return to the stadium he once ruled kicks the premiership back into life after an eventful international break. It was an autumnal interval that many thought Manchester United’s manager might not make it through however his teams’ spirited fightback versus Newcastle last time out seems to have handed Jose some breathing space. Though a trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday could potentially cut off the oxygen supply in what is still a particularly fraught situation for the former ‘special one’.

He will arrive in London with his squad hoping that their dramatic win before the break will give them the timely boost they need to kick start their season as they already lie seven points from the top spot and five points off the top four. So, if United for some reason still have title glory on their mind then dropping points before Manchester City play at home to Burnley isn’t really an option. Though, Mourinho’s recent record with United at Stamford Bridge of just a single point from their last three visits doesn’t bode particularly well for hopes of a victory.

Chelsea on the other hand, despite their new managers’ continually modest outlook, have undoubtedly pushed themselves into the title conversation with six wins and two draws in their opening eight games to leave them joint top with Manchester City and Liverpool. Maurizio Sarri’s unique style of management has been embraced by the majority of his squad and examples of ‘Sarri-ball’ have already been on show in Chelsea’s unexpectedly fast start to the season. And when you look at how Newcastle cut through Manchester United’s defence two weeks ago, you wonder how Mourinho will go about stifling the both effective and attractive brand of football that Chelsea now look to play.

In terms of strategy for the game, it’s actually hard to pinpoint how Mourinho will set his team up as he clearly doesn’t know what his best back four is let alone his whole eleven. Some might jest that there is a whiteboard somewhere in Greater Manchester with only the words ‘ JUST STOP HAZARD’ scribbled on it. And despite the comedic nature of such a statement it’s clear that attempting to neutralise one of the most talented players in the world will have to be a top priority. Though how United will try to limit Eden Hazard’s effectiveness is anyone’s guess: maybe man mark like him Herrera did so well a couple years ago? Try to physically kick him off the park? Throw full water bottles at him behind the fourth officials’ back?

(More) joking aside, it’s clear that with the state of Mourinho’s unstable defence being what it is, that any attempt to deter Hazard and Co from cutting through them on occasion will likely prove fruitless. Thus, it might instead be more productive for Mourinho to fully utilise the wide array of attacking options he has at his disposable to get after what Maurizio Sarri admits, is a Chelsea defence that is still finding it’s feet. Not many managers have the luxury of bringing on a player the caliber of Alexis Sanchez to boost an attacking line up of Lukaku, Rashford, Lingard and Anthony Martial. Many would assert that it would a better idea for the former Chelsea boss to push the players that he does have rather than bitterly reflect on those he doesn’t. You sense the ability within the United squad is there however you wonder if the confidence needed to accompany that talent will ever be gained under the current management at the club.

Mourinho thinking
‘Maybe McTominay up front with Lukaku will get all these ungrateful souls off my back’

For the home side, the polar opposite of fictional whiteboard notice mentioned above applies on Saturday afternoon. Chelsea fans will hope that, like most teams recently, United are unable to stop the force that is an in-form Eden Hazard. After being given the freedom by Sarri to express himself more all over the attacking third, Hazard has produced seven goals and three assists this season from just six starts. Numbers that are not be sniffed at when you consider his highest goal tally for a premiership season is sixteen. His performance on Saturday won’t solely determine the outcome of the game however you feel he currently possesses the power to win games essentially single-handedly for The Blues (much as he recently did versus Liverpool in the Carabao Cup). While he remains in this sort of form, rumours about his future will of course always be rife. However, for Chelsea it’s surely about what their star player can do for them in the present than whether he decides to stay in the long term or not. They will sorely miss his presence if and when he decides to leave the club, yet for now they possess arguably the most dangerous attacking asset in the premier league and you wouldn’t imagine whatever back line Mourinho conjures up to deal with him sleeping too soundly on Friday night.

Naturally though this kind of match will by no means simply be Eden Hazard versus a shaky Manchester United defence and indeed if United’s aforementioned attack can expose a Chelsea back four that is still conceding too many chances then it could be fortunes at the other end of the pitch that define Saturday’s result. Another determining factor will be if Chelsea’s striker, whom the identity of is always in question before the line ups are announced, can produce an end product from the likely stream of service they will receive. Olivier Giroud, despite providing four assists for his teammates, is still without a goal this season and Alvaro Morata’s woes in a Chelsea shirt since the turn of 2018 have been well documented. Whichever number nine is giving the starting birth on Saturday afternoon, both will men will have to start contributing a steady supply of goals soon if Sarri’s side are to turn heads further and challenge for the title this season after all.

Looking at the current state and form of each side it would be difficult to back against Chelsea, who do seem to be a different animal under Sarri this season and performed well in their sternest test of the season so far versus Jurgen Klopp’s dynamic Liverpool in the last Game Of The Weekend. As obvious a statement as it is, if Mourinho’s side are to get anything to take back up the M1 they will need their key players, particularly their midfield men, to play to their strengths. Paul Pogba will have to be at his influential best to match up to a talented and settled Chelsea midfield three. Meanwhile, Nemanja Matic will have to prove to Mourinho that he is still the player he was by breaking up typically fluent Chelsea play as much as possible. Once more though, its whether these players and rest of their United teammates can muster up the kind of performances expected, in what are still times of extreme difficulty for the club as a whole, that will likely be the overriding factor at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon.

 

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