Make no bones about it, Monday night’s trip to West Ham was a potential banana-skin in the making. The Hammers are a decent side on their day, and clearly would be up for the fight against their London neighbours.
But Chelsea played like….well, champions really. They soaked up the best that West Ham had to throw at them before scoring a classic counter-attacking goal in the 25th minute via Eden Hazard. The Blues’ second was less visually appealing – Diego Costa nudging in with his thigh from a Hazard corner – but 2-0 up after an hour and the job was almost done.
Manuel Lanzini did manage to grab an injury time consolation for the Iron, but it was too little, too late for Slaven Bilic’s outfit and Chelsea extended their lead at the summit of the Premier League table to a nice round ten points.
It’s another Monday night affair for the boys this week, this time in the FA Cup against that old foe Manchester United. Antonio Conte will be eager to secure the double in his first season in charge – not a bad way to introduce yourself to the Chelsea faithful, and standing in his way will be one Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese gaffer will be desperate to get one over on his former employer here, and is sure to put out his strongest possible eleven in an attempt to derail the Blues’ ambitions of securing silverware.
Conte, meanwhile, has been content with using the FA Cup as an avenue to field his fringe players, and we can’t see that changing dramatically on Monday. But in front of a packed Bridge – and on the back of the 4-0 win in the league fixture between the two – Chelsea will be confident of booking their place in the semi-finals of the competition and a trip to Wembley Stadium.
Chelsea Team News
As is usually the case for Chelsea this season, there are no fresh injury concerns going into this game. Eden Hazard left the field against West Ham clutching his hamstring, although that is thought to be a twinge more than anything sinister. Whether Conte decides to risk him against the Red Devils is another matter.
Other than the Belgian it is once again a clean bill of health for the Italian to choose from, and so far in this FA Cup run he has opted to rest a few weary legs where possible.
We suspect though that the first choice back three will start in order to deal with the threat posed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with Diego Costa continuing up front in lieu of any obvious replacement; it is obvious that Conte is not pleased with the progress – or lack of – made by Michy Batshuayi. Likewise for the wing backs, it just makes sense to pick them.
Chelsea v Manchester United Head to Head
You can’t really fault Chelsea’s head-to-head record with the Red Devils; they are unbeaten in eleven against their old foe. That run features six wins and five draws, including an FA Cup triumph in 2013, where the original tie at Old Trafford was drawn 2-2 prior to a Blues 1-0 success at the Bridge.
Chelsea have also won five of their last six encounters with United at Stamford Bridge in all competitions, and with a healthy goal difference of +9.
The most memorable recent clash between the two teams also happens to be the last time they met; Chelsea’s crushing 4-0 win at the Bridge back in October. Two goals in each half did the damage then, and how Conte would love a repeat against Mourinho, who had plenty to say for himself after the final whistle of that particular game.
How the Match Will Be Won
One tabloid journalist suggested recently that if you stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic you stop Manchester United, and while that was no doubt penned with tongue firmly in cheek there is actually a semblance of truth to it.
Without the Swede’s 26 goals this term you do wonder where they would be, and while it is okay to have a talisman relying on him so heavily is not a strategy for long-term success. You look at his sidekicks – Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba – and you think okay, this United side can be stopped quite easily.
They are strong defensively but there are still question marks over the likes of Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, while Antonio Valencia – excellent going forward, appears vulnerable when facing wingers with a bit of knowhow. He will have his hands full on Monday night.
We’re anticipating a low-scoring affair that might even be settled by the odd goal, but if you can mark Zlatan out of the game then where does United’s inspiration come from? Chelsea have more attacking players in form and ready to produce a moment of magic to send their side to yet another Wembley showpiece.