Stakes are high this Sunday afternoon when the Blues run out at Old Trafford. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview this prominent game in the Premier League run-in…
There is plenty at stake this weekend although on this occasion it is not the heavyweight title clash it has been in the past. The Red Devils have not mounted a league championship challenge since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and Chelsea were out of this season’s running after a bad winter.
Looking back, a 1-1 draw on 8 May 2004 at Old Trafford, Manchester, was between the sides set to finish second and third in the top flight. The following May at the same stadium, Chelsea were already confirmed as champions, with Manchester United finishing third again. After a guard of honour Jose Mourinho’s men ran out 3-1 winners.
Thirteen years ago on Monday it was first-versus-second and the Mancunians were taken apart 3-0 at the Bridge by the champions. Then in May 2007, a cagey 0-0 at the Bridge came 10 days before the FA Cup final between the two, in which the Londoners prevailed 1-0… but it was Man United who pipped Chelsea to the title. On 26 April 2008, a 2-1 victory was insufficient to prevent Sir Alex Ferguson’s side topping the table again.
Three years later on 8 May 2011, a 1-2 loss virtually confirmed the Red Devils as champions again, and on 5 May 2013, a 1-0 win was quite meaningless, United eventually topping the table and the Blues finishing third. When Antonio Conte’s side won 1-0 at the Bridge in April 2015, there were still six matches left to play and the Red Devils were a distant fourth. This clash has not been scheduled as a late-season showpiece for six years. Until now.
Chelsea arrive on Sunday determined to make up for five league visits in succession to Old Trafford without a win. That is the longest barren run since 1961-1966, when six winless trips were made. Our worst ever run was 17 from 1920 to 1957 (though three were at Maine Road as United’s stadium had been bombed in the war).
Maurizio Sarri could become the sixth different Chelsea coach to win at Old Trafford on his first Premier League visit with the Blues. The others were Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez.
— Key stat
This is the last clash of the campaign between two teams in the top six, and Sarri’s men have lost the past four such encounters. Should the Blues win all three remaining matches, however, the fourth Champions League spot would be secured, no matter what other clubs might do.
In that scenario the Blues’ final points tally would be 76, at the midpoint of totals over the previous decade.
In his first season at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola steered his team to third place behind champions Chelsea on 78 points. Now the City coach is in pole position to make his side the first back-to-back Premier League title-winners since Chelsea and Man United both achieved the feat 2005-2009.
Form is the last six matches home and away.
*Can also qualify for 2019/20 Champions League by winning 2018/19 Europa League.
Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Man United have finished seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth and second. They enter this weekend sixth, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and with a significantly inferior goal difference.
A win would lift the Blues to 70 points, a total the hosts would only be able to reach by winning their remaining two matches.
Man United’s starting line-up for the home defeat by Man City showed five changes in response to last weekend’s bad performance at Goodison Park. That 4-0 loss was their worst since the same scoreline at the Bridge in October 2016.
Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat made it seven losses in nine league matches for the Red Devils, their worst run of results since autumn 1962.
The inflamed criticism by former players these past few days may appear harsh, but the current team have conceded 50 goals this campaign, their highest ever tally in the Premier League, and their most in a top-flight season since the 63 in 1978/79. (Chelsea managed a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the last game of that season 40 years ago, despite being relegated.)
Europa League catch-up
Eintracht Frankfurt have a day more than Chelsea to rest and prepare for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final as they host Hertha on Saturday afternoon in the Bundesliga.
As frustrating as it was to draw at home to Burnley, the point could prove vital. Chelsea actually managed nine shots on target in Monday’s game, the most since the 2-0 FA Cup victory against Nottingham Forest.
Curiously, the eight Blues shots on target in the reverse fixture at Turf Moor in October produced a 4-0 thrashing. Our highest tally of accurate attempts in the league – 11 – came against Arsenal in the 3-2 at the start of the season. Meanwhile, we still await the Blues’ first direct free-kick goal in the league.
Premier League top-scorers
Sergio Aguero (Man City) 19
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) 19
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) 19
Sadio Mane (Liverpool) 18
Harry Kane (Tottenham) 17
Raheem Sterling (Man City) 17
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 16
Jamie Vardy (Leicester) 16
Eden Hazard’s setting-up of the Blues’ equaliser on Monday took his combined total of goals and assists this season to 29, two ahead of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero.
The man who dispatched the Belgian’s astute pass, N’Golo Kante, now has four league goals this season – one more than he netted in his previous three campaigns combined – as well as four assists.
Gonzalo Higuaín’s banger meant he has reached double figures in his past 11 league campaigns (including four for Chelsea).
Premier League assists
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 13
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) 12
Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth) 12
Leroy Sane (Man City) 10
Raheem Sterling (Man City) 10
Premier League clean sheets
Alisson (Liverpool) 18
Ederson (Man City) 17
Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea) 13
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham) 11
Jordan Pickford (Everton) 11
Watford are at home to Wolves on Saturday. They have lost three of their past six in the league, beating Fulham and Huddersfield who are both relegated.
Lyon were crowned champions of France this week. With a potentially vital away goal, Chelsea hope to overturn a narrow defeat by the French side at Kingsmeadow on Sunday in the decisive leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Tickets are still available for two-time winners Chelsea’s UEFA Youth League semi-final against Barcelona in Nyon on Friday at 5pm. The winners face either Porto or Hoffenheim in Monday’s final. You can follow the tournament live on BT Sport 1.
The Professional Footballers’ Association Premier League Team of the Year published this week raised eyebrows for its omission of Hazard. Man United’s Paul Pogba was the only non-Liverpool or Man City player.
Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker was one of many to question it. ‘Hazard is probably the closest to Lionel Messi in style – low to the ground, strong, with an electric burst of pace,’ he told the BBC Sport website, ‘and I love watching him play.’
Tammy Abraham made the PFA’s Championship XI but another of our on-loan players, Reece James, was overlooked despite consistently winning man of the match at relegation-threatened Wigan. Perhaps his versatility worked against him in this instance, and he was nominated in a number of different positions.
We wish a speedy recovery to Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has made such a great impression this season and is now recuperating from an operation on the ruptured Achilles tendon sustained against Burnley.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Locked into fourth place.
Premier League fixtures
Liverpool v Huddersfield 8pm - Sky Sports
Tottenham v West Ham 12.30pm - Sky Sports
Crystal Palace v Everton 3pm
Fulham v Cardiff 3pm
Southampton v Bournemouth 3pm
Watford v Wolves 3pm
Brighton v Newcastle 5.30pm - BT Sport
Leicester v Arsenal 12pm - Sky Sports
Burnley v Manchester City 2.05pm - Sky Sports
Manchester United v Chelsea 4.30pm - Sky Sports