Thursday 30 November 2017

Chelsea v Newcastle United Match Preview (02/12/17): Back the Blues to Blast Beleaguered Magpies

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In our preview of the match, we had suggested that Chelsea would enjoy a narrow win over Swansea on Wednesday night and so it proved – although in truth the margin of victory could and perhaps should have been far greater.

The Blues fired in ten shots on target at the Welsh side’s goal and their keeper, Lukasz Fabianski, was named man of the match, and as if that wasn’t enough our attacking play also earned 15 corners.
Basically, this was a hammering in all ways bar the scoreline.

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You can forgive Antonio Conte for getting a little hot under the collar then given the frustration of watching his side dominate without turning that into goals, and the Italian was sent to the stands on the stroke of half-time after arguing with the match officials a little too vehemently.

“I apologise for this,” he said in his post-match interview. “I was frustrated. For sure I made a mistake. During the game I suffer. With my players I suffer. It's a pity.”

Conte will now have to wait and see if an FA-sanctioned touchline ban will keep him from the dug-out for Saturday lunchtime’s game against Newcastle. We hope not, as it often detracts from the match itself – a match the Blues really ought to be winning against a Magpies side without a win in five outings.

Chelsea Team News

Conte managed to rest his key players, by and large, against Swansea in order to keep them fresh for Saturday’s action.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Tiemoue Bakayoko were given the night off, while Eden Hazard came on for the final ten minutes or so as the Blues sought a second goal to kill off the game. All three will surely start on Saturday.

Victor Moses came on for the final 15 minutes, and that’s a great sign in his recovery, although it remains doubtful that he is ready to start a match as yet.

Conte may also be keen on handing a rest to Marcos Alonso, who continues to work diligently down the left flank. The Spaniard has played a lot of games already this season, and while his natural replacement – Kenedy – is injured, Conte may try to conjure a way to let Alonso put his feet up this week….possibly with one of Pedro or Cesar Azpilicueta filling in as a makeshift wing back.

Otherwise, it will be all systems go for the Blues as they seek a sixth win in seven Premier League outings.

Chelsea v Newcastle United Head to Head

There have been 160 recorded meetings between these old foes, with this week’s encounter coming almost exactly 110 years to the day of their first encounter!

Chelsea have the edge with 69 wins to 52, although to be fair the Magpies have more than held their own against the Blues in recent times.

Newcastle are something of a bogey side for us, and our record of W4 D1 L4 is below-par when compared to our head-to-head stats against teams of a similar level. Why? Answers on a postcard!

Maybe the key stat to come from examining the recent battles is that Chelsea have won four on the bounce against the North East outfit at Stamford Bridge, with twelve goals scored and just one conceded.

How the Match Will Be Won

Newcastle United had lost four Premier League games on the spin prior to Tuesday’s trip to West Brom, and when they went down 0-2 to the Baggies they must have been fearing a fifth.

But the Magpies rallied well, netting twice in the second half and dominating the final half-hour in particular.

So they will have something of a spring in their step heading down the M1 to London, although that could be quickly extinguished as soon as they are reminded of their wretched recent record at the Bridge.

The uncompromising Alexander Mitrovic made a big difference when he came on for Newcastle at Saturday, and he will be Newcastle’s main outlet on Saturday.

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That’s largely due to the injuries suffered by Christian Atsu, the tricky winger who can really make things happen, and captain Jamaal Lascelles. It’s no coincidence the Magpies’ form has deteriorated without that pair in the side.

Conceding goals has been Newcastle’s Achilles heel lately: they’ve kept just one clean sheet in ten outings, and shipped in their last three. Messrs Hazard, Morata, Willian and co will be rubbing their hands together in anticipation.

The key to winning this match will be subdue Newcastle in the opening 10-15 minutes. They will be on a high after their midweek result – which will feel like a win, all told – and so if we can outplay them early and start to sow the seeds of doubt in their minds, it should be a comfortable enough afternoon’s work for Chelsea.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Chelsea v Swansea Match Preview (29/11/17): Expect Blues to Canter Home Against Shy Swans

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Parcheggiare l'autobus is the Italian translation for ‘park the bus’ (or the Google Translate version of it, anyway). And that might well have been a phrase that Antonio Conte uttered to the Chelsea players prior to their 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.

He fielded the usual back five plus three defence-minded midfielders in N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater, creating a wall of blue designed to stifle Liverpool’s attacking forays.

And it worked, by and large, as the Reds were restricted to just four shots on target.

The Blues fired in three shots of their own as they counter-attacked well with Eden Hazard pulling the strings and Alvaro Morata sniffing around dangerously. Ironically, it was a complete mishit from Willian that levelled the scoring after Mo Salah had given Liverpool the lead.

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After a week of long flights and early mornings following the midweek trip to Qarabag, this was very much a point earned, rather than two lost, at Anfield.

But there’s no rest for the wicked, with a rare midweek set of fixtures in the Premier League bringing Swansea to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

It has been a hectic few weeks for the players, so Conte will need to handle his squad effectively, but there’s no reason why we won’t win comfortably against a Swansea side that has lost six of their last eight outings.

Chelsea Team News

We were completely spot on with our assessment of the Liverpool game – the manager switching to the 5-3-1-1 formation that we had suggested he might, but he won’t show so much respect to Swansea in midweek.

We’ll be playing the favoured 3-4-2-1 system, and with only Michy Batshuayi definitely out injured Conte has a full deck to play from.

He may opt to rest Hazard – the Belgian was visibly leg-heavy towards the end of the Liverpool match. There really is no need to push him too hard ahead of the hectic festive schedule.

So that would presumably bring Pedro and Willian back into the side, and surely Cesc Fabregas will return in midfield to add a greater attacking emphasis.

Is Victor Moses ready to make a return to the starting eleven? He was on the bench at Anfield, but with the game in the balance there was no ideal moment to bring him on. Expect the Nigerian to get some minutes on Wednesday; but he may have to make do with a place on the bench again behind the impressive Davide Zappacosta.

There is a slight chance that Conte may rest Cesar Azpilicueta too, although this is clearly a player he adores.

Chelsea v Swansea Head to Head

Swansea have been rather late bloomers in the beautiful game, and so there are only 33 previous meetings between the two teams to call upon.

Chelsea have won 15 of those with 11 draws, so it’s fair to say the Blues have enjoyed the best of things against the Welsh outfit.

If we take the last ten in isolation, we note a resounding W6 D3 L1 record in Chelsea’s favour, with the Blues winning four of the last five at the Bridge. Indeed, other than a League Cup victory, Swansea’s only win at Chelsea came back in 1925!

The pair last met in February, where goals from Fabregas, Pedro and Diego Costa secured a 3-1 triumph.

How the Match Will Be Won

So what does this Swansea side bring to the table? The truth is very little. They’ve failed to find the net in more than 270 minutes of Premier League action, have lost their last three away games and, in six games on the road this term, have scored just three times.

As such, complacency could be the Chelsea players’ biggest obstacle here, but playing at home should render any fears of them taking their foot off the gas obsolete – the Stamford Bridge faithful simply won’t allow any slacking!

Swansea’s best attacking outlet is one of our own, the on-loan Tammy Abraham, and he isn’t allowed to play on Wednesday as part of those loan terms. That means an already shot-shy Swans side will have to make do without their top goalscorer.

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They’ll have to rely on Wilfried Bony to lead the line, supported by one of either Jordan Ayew or Renato Sanches.

Defensively, Swansea have conceded at least once in 8/13 matches this term, but only two or more in five of those thirteen, which suggests they are a tougher nut to crack than many give them credit for.

The problem on Wednesday is that they will allow Chelsea to have plenty of the ball, and you would think by law of average that the Blues will ultimately break them down and find the net.

The fact that the Welsh outfit plays with a flat back four will be music to the ears of Alvaro Morata, and we’d expect him to score in a conservative victory for the home side.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Liverpool vs Chelsea Match Preview (25/11/17): Can Blues Halt the Reds’ Attacking Quartet?

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It was very much a case of job done in Azerbaijan, with Chelsea overcoming Qarabag 4-0 to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare. The fact that the match with Atletico Madrid is now a dead rubber is a real bonus.

We were aided by Qarabag going down to ten men early on Wednesday, of course, with Rashad Sadygov, bamboozled by Willian’s run, sent off after just 19 minutes. Eden Hazard despatched the resulting spot kick, before the Brazilian bagged a brace in a performance we can file under ‘food for thought’ for Antonio Conte.

Cesc Fabregas notched the fourth, again from the penalty spot, to seal a good night’s work for the Blues.

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The problem now for Chelsea is overcoming the 5,000 mile return trip from Azerbaijan in time for Saturday’s evening kick off against Liverpool, who of course have an extra 24 hours to recover after they played their Champions League encounter against Sevilla on Tuesday.

It would be churlish to label that ‘unfair’, as a fixture backlog is the price of success in football, but you can forgive Conte for feeling rather aggrieved in his post-match press conference.

“Someone has to help us. As you know very well the English league is very tough. There are six top teams that fight for the title. I don't want to complain, but this is the reality, he said.”

“Now we have to travel five hours and a half, and then rest one day, and then prepare the game against Liverpool.”

At least the Italian will have some fresh legs to call upon. He rested Gary Cahill, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata for the trip east, and all can expect to come back into the starting eleven for what is a serious test of credentials at Anfield.

Chelsea Team News

Alongside the rested players, the most notable selection against Qarabag was the restoration of David Luiz in defence.

The Brazilian was put on the naughty step by Conte prior to the international break after a couple of below-par performances, but he was restored to the line-up in Azerbaijan and played with his usual assured authority.

Does this mean that he is back in Conte’s plans for good? It’s possible, but who would be surprised if Andreas Christensen was drafted back into the side to combat Firmino, Salah, Mane and co on Saturday.

Otherwise it’s very much as you were. Victor Moses could be fit enough for a place on the bench, but he surely won’t be risked against a firing Liverpool outfit. Michy Batshuayi is also out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury.

So now, Conte must decide how he tackles this free-scoring Liverpool side. We can see him reverting to the 3-5-1-1 system he has used in big matches this season, and that will help to shut down the middle of the pitch – an area where the Reds are so dangerous.

Both Sadio Mane and Mo Salah play as inside forwards, so their natural instinct is to cut in from the wing into the middle third, where they join the likes of Roberto Firmino and Phil Coutinho.

So it’s imperative that the Blues shut down the middle third, and as such we expect Conte to draft in Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas in a tight trio in the centre.

Liverpool vs Chelsea Head to Head

There have been more than 175 meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool, with the first taking place a mere 110 years ago!

The history books tell us that the Reds have enjoyed more success against the Blues than vice versa – 77 wins to 61, but that is skewed slightly by Liverpool’s dominance throughout the 1970s and 80s.

Even so, the modern era has proven kind to the Merseysiders. They are unbeaten in five Premier League outings against Chelsea (W2 D3 L0), and if we flick back through the history books slightly further we note that the Blues have won just five of their last eighteen games against Liverpool!

That said, our record at Anfield isn’t too bad. We’re actually unbeaten in six there, with four draws backed by consecutive victories in 2014. The first of those was the scene of the infamous ‘Steven Gerrard slip’ that blew open the title race and ultimately handed the trophy to Manchester City.

How the Match Will Be Won

Can we stop Liverpool from scoring? That’s the big question here, as they are so poor defensively that we would expect to find the net ourselves with a fit and firing Alvaro Morata back leading the line.

Manchester United escaped from Anfield with a goalless draw, and that was due largely to Jose Mourinho’s grand parking of the bus routine. Whisper it, but there might just be something in that….

As mentioned, we really need to close down those spaces in the middle third of the pitch. Mane and Salah can have the ball in wide areas, but as soon as they drop that shoulder and cut infield we need a mass of bodies in place to shut down the room in which they can operate.

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Even with this perceived defensive formation of 3-5-1-1 Chelsea will be fancied to score, especially with Hazard and Morata linking up so nicely against West Brom last weekend, and the Belgian will be absolved of all defensive responsibilities in this system. Playing on the shoulder of Jordan Henderson, he will be granted the freedom of Anfield.

And that, ultimately, could prove the difference between these contrasting teams.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

FK Qarabag vs Chelsea Match Preview (22/11/17): Blues to Book Place in Champions League Last 16

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In his pre-match press conference, Antonio Conte labelled this as Chelsea’s ‘most important game of the season’, and you can see where the Italian is coming from.

The Blues will confirm their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with victory against the Azerbaijani minnows, although Conte himself isn’t taking anything for granted.

We have to play the most important game of the season from the start until now," he said in interview.

“If we are able to win against Qarabag, we can go through to the next round of the Champions League and this is very important because this period from now until January is very busy, so it is very important to win the game.

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“For sure it won’t be easy because in the last two games they drew twice against Atletico Madrid, and before that they lost the game but Roma were struggling a lot to win against them so it is very important to be focused, to work and to try to win the game.”

At least Chelsea go into the game in high spirits following the 4-0 demolition of West Brom at the weekend. A brace from Eden Hazard plus further goals from Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso secured a comfortable victory and lifted us up to third in the Premier League table.

Chelsea Team News

There are no new injury doubts, which means that only Victor Moses (thigh) and Michy Batshuayi (ankle) are missing for the Blues.

Moses may be fit enough to return at the weekend, but surely won’t be risked here, and otherwise Conte has a full deck to play with.

So how will he line his side up? Well, as he’s mentioned, this is a must win game, and victory will render the Blues’ potentially tricky game against Atletico Madrid meaningless.

As such, Conte will play his strongest side here….but what does that look like?

Combined, Qarabag managed just two shots on target in their other two home Champions League ties against Atleti and Roma, although at least they tried to play football by commanding an average of 47% possession across those two games.

But the Azerbaijanis surely don’t have the weapons to hurt us, so expect the usual back five (Zappacosta in for Moses), with Cesc Fabregas slotting in alongside N’Golo Kante in midfield.

Expect Pedro to come into his usual Champions League role in attack alongside Hazard and Morata.

Qarabag vs Chelsea Head to Head

The reverse fixture was actually the first time that these two sides have met, and it turned into something of a baptism of fire for the Azerbaijanis!

Chelsea strolled to a 6-0 victory, firing in seven shots on target and hitting the woodwork. With seven shots blocked and seven corners won, the margin of victory could have been even greater.

But Qarabag have bounced back well from that hammering and given Atletico and Roma, two excellent sides by any measure, a real good game in front of their own supporters. Chelsea can expect a similarly determined opponent on Wednesday.

How the Match Will Be Won

If the possession stats from their last two Champions League games are anything to go by, Qarabag will give it a go on Wednesday night.

They scored against Roma and even managed to net away from home against Atletico too, which is no mean feat, but by-and-large their attacking play is pretty limited.

So the main task from Chelsea’s perspective will be finding that winning goal, and hopefully Álvaro Morata and Eden Hazard’s fine link-up play will continue. They looked in fine fettle against West Brom on Saturday, and if they can replicate that form there is no reason why they can’t contribute with a goal or two here.

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When teams defend deep, and in numbers, it is essential to stretch the play as wide as possible. That is hopefully why Conte will opt for Zappacosta on the right flank ahead of Azpilicueta, who is perfectly serviceable there, but the Italian offers a greater attacking edge.

Expect Cesc Fabregas to dictate play from deep, and his ability to pick a defence-splitting pass will be crucial. Pedro too, for his work rate and eye for goal, will need to be at his best.

Famous last words, but there is little chance of Chelsea losing this game. And as long as our four or five key attacking personnel are at the races, there’s every chance we’ll take all three points back to London.

Thursday 16 November 2017

West Brom vs Chelsea Match Preview (18/11/17): Blues Prepared for Trial by Air at the Hawthorns

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Three Premier League wins heading into the international break meant that Antonio Conte could afford to feel pretty satisfied with his work in his fortnight off, but now it’s back to business with a week that could help to define the Blues’ season.

Okay, so a trip to the Hawthorns to take on West Brom doesn’t exactly sound like an all-important fixture, but Conte will learn a lot about the heart and character of his side in the West Midlands given the physical onslaught he can expect his players to face.

And then on Wednesday we have the trip to Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag; victory there would secure our passage into the last 16 of the Champions League, and render the probably tricky game with Atletico Madrid meaningless.

The good news is that the Blues squad has reconvened from international duty in largely good health. Michy Batshuayi pulled out of the Belgium squad with a foot injury and is likely to miss out on the West Brom game, but otherwise Eden Hazard, Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz appear to have shaken off knocks.

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Ah, David. Dropped for the Manchester United game, he had to watch on as replacement Andreas Christensen put in a composed display and helped to shackle Romelu Lukaku in a fine 1-0 win. For now at least, you would assume that means the Dane is Conte’s first choice sweeper.

Three points against the Baggies could life Chelsea as high as second in the league table; let’s see if the doom-mongers are as vocal then.

Chelsea Team News

So Batshuayi is definitely out of Saturday’s game, and unfortunately Victor Moses hasn’t fully recovered from his thigh tear either and will sit out again.

Otherwise, Conte has a full deck to play from with Hazard, Luiz and Bakayoko shaking off knocks picked up on international duty.

So the manager will now to need to pick a starting eleven based upon the task in hand at the Hawthorns, and with a nod to the Qarabag game on Wednesday. The two fixtures are likely to be something of a contrast….

West Brom are a physical side who will play on the back foot and look to make the most of any set pieces that they earn. They will provide aggressive resistance, particularly in midfield, and so Conte’s team selection will surely account for that.

Qarabag, meanwhile, will play on the break and look to frustrate Chelsea, and the onus will be on the Blues to prise open the Azerbaijani’s resilient rearguard effort. Again, that will give Conte some pointers as to team selection, and the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Willian will probably make the eleven on Wednesday, but not here.

West Brom vs Chelsea Head to Head

There have been more than 130 meetings between these two sides dating back more than a century, and while West Brom are one of those sides that have a ‘bogey team’ style quality about them, the good news is that Chelsea rarely fall prey to their charms.

The Blues have lost just one of their last nine against the Baggies (W5 D3 L1), and while our record at the Hawthorns in recent years has been mixed – W2 D1 L3 – the good news is that our last two trips have both ended in victory.

You may just recall the last trip to the West Midlands: that was back in May when Michy Batshuayi’s goal secured a 1-0 win and the Premier League title!

How the Match Will Be Won

There are no frills and no surprises as far as West Brom are concerned, and their switch to a 3-4-3 style system earlier in the campaign has done little to change their conservative approach.

Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evens and Ahmed Hegazi is an uncompromising a back three as you will see, and they will need to be beaten on the ground and with pace rather than aerial brawn. Allan Nyom and Kieran Gibbs will probably play at wing back, and while both have pace to spare neither should hurt us in an attacking sense.

In midfield Tony Pulis can call upon the fantastic Grzegorz Krychowiak, surely one of the most under-rated signings of the season, alongside the evergreen Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore, with two of Nacer Chadli, Jay Rodriguez, Matty Phillips, Hal Robson-Kanu and Solomon Rondon afforded the opportunity to express themselves in attack.

It is, in essence, a man-for-man representation of the Chelsea system, although the Baggies’ midfield three will sit deeper to protect their backline.

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The point is that West Brom shouldn’t have the tools to hurt Chelsea from open play, and as long as we defend set pieces effectively we should be fine – if Conte selects Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger that will help.

In their last two home games the West Midlanders have shipped five goals against Manchester City and Watford, so there’s every hope that Chelsea can also breach this stubborn defensive line and take the three points back to London.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Manchester United vs Chelsea Match Preview (05/11/17): Can Blues Find Way Past Mourinho’s Parked Bus?

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It’s not something we’ve had to become accustomed to in the past year or so as Chelsea supporters, but our defending was absolutely wretched on Tuesday night against Roma.

There have been little signs of incompetence this term, not least the fact we’ve conceded at least once in 9/14, and the seeds were sewn as early as the first game of the season, back when Burnley ran riot at the Bridge.

So perhaps a bit of a thrashing has been due, and we certainly got one of those on Halloween night in Rome.

The die was cast rather early in the piece: Stephan el Shaarawy netting the Italians’ opener after just 39 seconds – the sixth fastest goal in Champions League history – after good work from Edin Dzeko, before el Shaarawy bagged his second after making the most of Antonio Rudiger’s error.

Diego Perotti made it three after slack defending from Pedro, and even then the hosts had chances to extend their lead.

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It is arguably a hammering that can act as a wake-up call ahead of the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday, although the continued speculation about the future of Antonio Conte – one tabloid suggested he was on his way out this week to be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti – coupled with the poor performance does set tongues wagging. It is probably just typical newspaper mischief; let’s hope so anyway.

To be fair, it’s not all doom and gloom anyway. Atletico Madrid could only draw with Qarabag on Tuesday, which means that we are still in pole position to escape Group C and will do so if we bet the Azerbaijanis next time out.

And so we turn our attention to Sunday’s meeting with Manchester United, and a trip north to see the Special One. The Blues suffered defeat at Old Trafford last time there, and so revenge will certainly be a tasty dish after a turbulent week for the club.

Chelsea Team News

The news that Tiemoue Bakayoko is playing through the pain barrier at the moment further accentuated the need for N’Golo Kante to return to full fitness sharpish.

Bakayoko has never fully recovered from the effects of his knee surgery in the summer, while Cesc Fabregas has looked tired after playing a lot of minutes for the club already this term.

Kante flew to Rome with the squad but decided late in the piece that he wasn’t ready to take to the field as yet, so let’s hope that’s a sign he’s saving himself for the United encounter on Sunday.

Gary Cahill was substituted off after 56 minutes in Rome but for tactical reasons only, so he will be fit and needed to help tackle the physical presence of Romelu Lukaku. On that note, we might expect Rudiger to keep his place despite his error on Tuesday; he matches up well with Lukaku from a physical perspective.

Will Kante come into the side? We certainly hope so, and while both Bakayoko and Fabregas could do with some time off the international break is on the horizon, so we’d expect the latter to miss out for tactical reasons.

The last decision Conte will need to make will be on Alvaro Morata. After a red-hot opening to the season, the Spaniard has looked off the pace of late and missed a couple of glorious chances in Rome and at Bournemouth. Michy Batshuayi is poised for a call up….but he may have to wait should Conte keep faith in his summer signing.

Manchester United vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is one of the most storied fixtures in English football, with more than 175 meetings between the two sides and many of those high stakes clashes.

Historically it’s United who enjoy the upper hand with 76 wins to 52, with 49 draws. But the tables have certainly turned of late….

Chelsea have lost just one of their last thirteen matches against the Red Devils, with seven wins and five draws.

Five of the last six meetings between these two at Old Trafford have ended in stalemate.

How the Match Will Be Won

For anybody who watched Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, or their 1-0 win over Spurs, you will already know how Mourinho will set his side up here.

He will post big Lukaku up front and play off him; largely with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and – as he showed with his late winner against Tottenham – Anthony Martial.

So the key is to ensure that Lukaku does not go unchallenged; make sure plenty of pressure is applied to him so he can’t flick away those headers or passes to midfield runners. That is perhaps why Conte will opt to keep Rudiger in the side.

Little was made of it by the pundits, but United actually switched to a back three last week with Bailly, Jones and Smalling in the centre and Valencia and Young acting as wing backs, with Rashford playing off Lukaku through the centre.

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That will play into Chelsea’s hands, as it will create more one-on-one battles across the pitch. We would anticipate that the Blues would get the better of most of those when comparing the players man-to-man.

We particularly like the thought of Eden Hazard just playing off Ander Herrera’s left shoulder. The Spaniard is rash in the tackle and occasionally finds himself out of position – Hazard could well be Chelsea’s match winner on Sunday….which will no doubt please Mourinho no end!