February’s matches reach their end with the Blues hosting one of the big contests of the season on Sunday. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are ready for the hosting of the Red Devils…
This top-five showdown matches Chelsea with Manchester United on the back of midweek nights against Spanish teams in Europe. The Blues inflicted the first ever ‘home’ defeat in the Champions League knockout stages on Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, while the Red Devils completed their Round of 32 elimination of Real Sociedad with a 0-0.
After the biggest win of his Chelsea career to date, Thomas Tuchel must navigate the Blues through the most testing period of the season. Sadly, we now know crowds will not be back before mid-May at the earliest.
What fine fare would have been laid before fans, with second-placed Man United, champions Liverpool, then Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton in the league, plus two decisive cup fixtures, between now and the first international break.
Tuchel has hit the ground running: he is the 16th manager since 1992/93 to avoid defeat in his opening six league games, and the first since another Blues coach, Maurizio Sarri, in 2018.
The Mancunians’ run of 19 Premier League games unbeaten began at the Bridge with a 2-0 win in February 2020. However, the Londoners are unbeaten in three Premier League games at home under the Bavarian, with a clean sheet achieved each time.
Chelsea are aiming to keep a fourth consecutive home clean sheet in the top flight for the first time in three years.
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Chelsea team news
Tuesday’s bond-building result in Romania was the most impressive so far under Tuchel, though he will see room for improvement in the accuracy of passing, especially in the final third.
Chelsea remain undefeated under his tutelage going into his sixth and toughest Premier League assignment to date. On Sunday he aims to join three predecessors (Maurizio Sarri, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Jose Mourinho) in going seven league games without defeat.
The decision to use Olivier Giroud against Atletico’s deep-lying 6-3-1 bore fruit in spectacular fashion with the winner adding a new oldest knockout-stage goalscorer to Chelsea’s history in Europe’s elite competition.
However, Tammy Abraham will be hoping for a return against a Man United defence that plays more on the front foot than Simeone’s side, and has proved susceptible to speed and movement.
The Spanish media were impressed with the Blues’ patience, intense pressing and pace in Bucharest, with Academy alumni Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount singled out for praise.
Mount, who is enjoying hot form, will now have a first home league goal of the season in his sights. Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz both looked confident and purposeful when they came on, taking the game to the Spaniards when possible.
The Londoners enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, too, and with less wastefulness in the final third, a hard-won victory could have been far more comfortable.
Manchester United have sometimes laboured against teams using a low-block defence and although that is not Chelsea’s style, once again in Bucharest the Blues restricted Atletico’s chances, conceding no shots on target.
The team as a whole are looking less susceptible to counter-attack, and alert to danger for the duration. Those qualities will be vital against the team standing second going into the weekend.
Thiago Silva could be back for the first time since the win at Tottenham, and should Cesar Azpilicueta be involved he will draw level with our 10th highest appearance-maker Eddie McCreadie on 411 matches.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was able to rest a substantial part of his first team for Real Sociedad’s visit on Thursday, with David De Gea, Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw starting on the bench. Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek missed out through injury.
United arrive as the only side from Europe’s top-five leagues still to lose at an away ground this season. They have won two-thirds of their 12 top-flight trips and scored in 10 of them.
Plenty of their success this season is down to Bruno Fernandes’ can-opening properties. The Portuguese has contributed 29 per cent of their goals – including all seven of their penalties – and 28 per cent of assists. There can be ways to reduce his effectiveness, such as preventing him touching the ball just outside the box, or harassing the instant he does in the hope he drifts out of danger areas.
More broadly, the Chelsea defence’s comfort playing high up the pitch, pinning back attacking full-backs, and ability to clear their lines quickly could nullify Man United’s attacks.
Scott McTominay and Fred can be frustrated trying to play the ball through defensive lines and United have missed the sidelined Paul Pogba’s spark of ingenuity. Sometimes Harry Maguire has successfully added to their options by driving forward, but if he is dispossessed it risks exposing their rearguard. The Blues will want to be deadlier than of late when that happens.
The Man United skipper’s actions will also be under scrutiny again on Sunday after his penalty area tangle with Jamal Lascelles last weekend. In recent Chelsea meetings the Red Devils’ centre-back has survived VAR reviews of a potential penalty foul on Cesar Azpilicueta and violent challenge on Michy Batshuayi that may well have affected the outcome.
How to watch Chelsea-Man United
This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are elsewhere, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
Chelsea TV’s globally available matchday shows – including early team news, exclusive interviews and analysis – are on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live and the official YouTube channel.
The undefeated half-dozen
Thomas Tuchel is one of just six Chelsea managers since 1905 to have remained unbeaten in the opening eight games across all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti and his caretaker predecessor, Guus Hiddink, came closest to achieving a straight eight victories. The earliest among them is William Lewis, who added team management to his role as club secretary and steered the Pensioners to promotion for the first time in 1907.
|Carlo Ancelotti (2009)||7||1|
|Guus Hiddink (2009)||7||1|
|Thomas Tuchel (2021)||6||2|
|Luiz Filipe Scolari (2008)||6||2|
|Jose Mourinho (2004)||6||2|
|William Lewis (1906/07)||6||2|
White ball is back
Last weekend brought one of football’s signs of spring: the return of the white ball, though not with the same plumage as before: the third different Flight ball this season has a dark blue target pattern.
The high-vis winter yellow livery was first used in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle at St James’ Park on 21 November and bowed out on 17 February. The top two in this season’s ‘winter league’ were the Manchester clubs.
|1 Manchester City||2.59 points per game|
|2 Manchester United||2.12|
|3 West Ham||1.94|
|10 Aston Villa||1.4|
|15 Crystal Palace||1|
|19 Sheffield United||0.63|
|20 West Bromwich||0.63|
Mason’s penalty marker
With Jorginho rested and Tammy Abraham substituted, penalty duty at St Mary’s in our last league game fell to Mason Mount after he was fouled in the box by Danny Ings. It was duly dispatched, marking his first success for the Blues from 12 yards.
That took Chelsea’s tally of different players to have scored from the spot in the Premier League to 25, more than any other team. Two other Blues, Lucas Piazon and Claude Makelele, missed their only attempt, though Maka famously followed up to score against Charlton. Twenty-two Man United players have scored from 12 yards in the top flight since 1992.
PREMIER LEAGUE PENALTIES 2020/21
Europa League extras
Chelsea have had two days more to prepare for this clash than the visitors, who were in Europa League action on Thursday following their relegation from the Champions League.
UEFA’s second competition means already intense fixture lists have to accommodate extra Round of 32 matches – something Champions League participants may not have bargained for in September.
Chelsea and Man United have an identical record in matches immediately following Champions League group stage midweeks of three won, two drawn (one against each other) and one lost.
The latest matchday programme
A physical copy of the usual feature- and fact-packed programme for this game can be bought online for £3.50 plus postage.
Premier League fixtures
Man City v West Ham 12.30pm - BT Sport
West Brom v Brighton 3pm - Sky Sports
Leeds v Aston Villa 5.30pm - Sky Sports
Newcastle v Wolves 8pm - Sky Sports
Crystal Palace v Fulham 12 noon - BBC
Leicester v Arsenal 12 noon - BT Sport
Tottenham v Burnley 2pm - Sky Sports
Chelsea v Man Utd 4.30pm - Sky Sports
Sheffield Utd v Liverpool 7.15pm - Sky Sports
Everton v Southampton 8pm - Sky Sports
Man City v Wolves 8pm - BT Sport
|4||West Ham United||25||13||6||6||39||29||10||45|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||25||2||8||15||19||55||-36||14|