Man U vs. Chelsea
Venue: Old Trafford
Kick off: 4:30PM
Manchester United and Chelsea face off this afternoon in what could be a pivotal match in the battle for a top-four finish.
Both sides are winless in two Premier League matches, but it is the Blues who sit in a healthier position as they occupy the final Champions League qualification spot, three points better off than their opponents.
United’s 11-match unbeaten run to kick off the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era, 10 of those games ending in victory, now seems a long time ago.
The Red Devils have badly tailed off and they are currently on their worst run of form in 57 years, having lost seven of their last nine matches in all competitions, including back-to-back losses in the Premier League by a 6-0 aggregate scoreline.
With their Champions League campaign being ended by Barcelona earlier this month, United were supposed to have been given an advantage over the sides in and around them, each of whom are still competing in Europe.
It has not quite turned out that way, though, and now this weekend’s showdown with Chelsea is seen as a season-saving match.
Win it and the Red Devils will be right back in the mix for a top-four finish; lose and Solskjaer’s problems will get a whole lot worse.
The good news for Solskjaer is that his side are still in the hunt for fourth place, despite collecting just six points from the last 18 on offer.
That is because, between them, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and United have earned just one draw and suffered five defeats in their last six matches, none of them able to drag themselves over the line.
After today’s difficult test against Chelsea, United have two winnable fixtures to conclude their campaign against Huddersfield Town (A) and Cardiff City (H).
Solskjaer will know that he can still achieve the target he was set by his bosses when being awarded a permanent contract, then, by overtaking Arsenal – two points better off ahead of their trip to Leicester City – and Chelsea in the remaining fortnight.
After seeing their side ship nine goals in their last three matches, however, and without winning back-to-back matches in nearly two months, the home supporters in attendance at Old Trafford have every right to feel anxious.
Chelsea also headed into Monday night’s home match with lowly Burnley knowing that victory would take them four points clear of closest challengers Arsenal.
The 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge neatly summed up what has been a strange battle for fourth place, though, as the Blues failed to take their big chance, leaving them in need of a positive result from this trip to Old Trafford.
Maurizio Sarri will not need telling that his side have lost their last six Premier League away games against fellow big-six sides, including all four this season by an aggregate score of 13-1.
Indeed, they are winless in eight such games since beating Tottenham 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in August 2017.
The Blues have been far too inconsistent on their travels for a while now, losing five of their last seven matches away from Stamford Bridge, with the only wins in that run coming away to bottom-three sides Fulham and Cardiff.
With the pressure building on Sarri, and fresh reports surfacing that he will be on his way in the summer, this could well be a make-or-break game for the Italian.
Chelsea have not gone three Premier League games without a win since September 2016, which they followed up with a 13-match winning streak, and another loss this afternoon could well put the wheels in motion for a replacement to be brought in.
The West London outfit do still have the small matter of a Europa League semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt to come, though, meaning that unlike United, they can still reach the Champions League via other means.
If they are to achieve their aim of bringing Champions League football back to Stamford Bridge, they are going to have to do it the hard way.
Fourth place may be Chelsea’s to lose, but they have trips to Man United and Leicester City to come, as well as hosting FA Cup finalists Watford.
Man U possible XI: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw, Herrera, Matic, Pogba, Lingard, Rashford, Lukaku.
Chelsea possible XI: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Emerson, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, Pedro, Higuain, Hazard.