MX23RW : Wednesday, December 19 16:41:39

Can Chelsea build on display against Barcelona?

Chelsea impressed against Barcelona in their Champions League clash on Tuesday, but can Antonio Conte's side build on that display against Manchester United?

Since the start of 2018, Chelsea have struggled to put together a consistent run of positive results but since the 4-1 defeat at Watford - a setback which led to fierce speculation over Antonio Conte's future - the Blues have displayed signs of improvement. Comfortable wins over West Bromwich Albion and Hull City set Conte's men up for the visit of Barcelona on Tuesday night and the Premier League team produced one of their best performances of the season to claim a 1-1 draw with the Catalan giants in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. The mistake which led to Barcelona's away goal took the shine off what had - all things considered - been an excellent showing from the West Londoners but will Chelsea be able to take that form into their upcoming matches?

Like when you view a Bet365 casino review and place your bet, you have to consider all of the options when coming to an informed decision. There is an argument that if Chelsea can match Barcelona blow for blow and be unfortunate not to record a win over the unbeaten La Liga leaders, then they should be well equipped to earn a result away at Manchester United on Sunday afternoon, but they are completely different fixtures. Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard all put in a shift to frequently press the Barcelona defence and we should not expect Conte to play all three men at Old Trafford, but does the Italian have enough faith in Alvaro Morata's fitness to be able to play the way he wants to in the North-West? At his best, Morata can trouble any defence in English football but the forward has not scored a Premier League goal in 2018 and you have to wonder whether it would be best to keep him in reserve after three substitute outings in a row.

Antonio Conte watches on intently during the Premier League game between Crystal Palace and Chelsea on October 14, 2017© Offside

Olivier Giroud is also available to Conte but is the former Arsenal man suited to the match at Old Trafford? Conte would prefer to have players running in behind the United backline to stretch the game and that is something which Giroud is unlikely to be able to do. Conte must be careful not to restrict his January signing to substitute appearances and cup starts, however, or the French frontman may wonder why he bothered to leave the Emirates Stadium. So far, Giroud has only played a total of 157 minutes from a possible 360 and only being used as a replacement against United this weekend and at Manchester City the following week may leave the player somewhat disillusioned.

Conte must also decide if and how to tinker with his defence with the upcoming games in mind. By leaving out Gary Cahill against Barcelona, the suggestion is that the club captain will not be favoured to start at Camp Nou next month so you would expect the England international to be used against either United or City, even if the 32-year-old could find himself exposed by the speed of their respective attacks. With David Luiz in and out of the squad through injury, it leaves Andreas Christensen being constantly used in the centre of the back three but the young Dane has only just recovered from a hamstring issue so Conte will surely not want to overplay an integral part of his team. Conte finds himself in a difficult position but given the options in his squad, the head coach may have to sacrifice tactical balance against either United or City in a bid to give the club the best possible chance in Spain on March 14.

Ayoze Perez and Mikel Merino close in on Danny Drinkwater during the Premier League game between Chelsea and Newcastle United on December 2, 2017© SilverHub

Decisions need to be made in the centre of midfield, too. N'Golo Kante's place in the side in games of this magnitude is a given but his partner in the middle of the pitch remains in doubt. Cesc Fabregas would be Conte's first choice but he looked shattered towards the end of Tuesday's encounter and the Spaniard will probably not be expected to play high-intensity matches against three of the strongest teams in world football in the space of 12 days. With Tiemoue Bakayoko an injury concern, it means that Conte may be forced into showing more belief in Danny Drinkwater. Chelsea spent a lot of money to sign the 27-year-old from Leicester City, but he has made just three starts in Premier League and Champions League fixtures, none of which have come since the start of 2018. Conte claiming that his players are tired has been a regular occurrence this season but the better use of Drinkwater may have led to a lower workload for a couple of his teammates.

In an ideal world, Conte would make no changes to his starting XI for the visit to Man United but Chelsea's schedule may dictate that Cahill, Drinkwater and one of Morata and Giroud take their place in the side at Old Trafford. Will Chelsea be competitive? Chances are that they will, but Conte does not have the players at his disposal to replicate the performance of Tuesday night and he will have to come up with a new gameplan to get the better of United on their own turf.

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Andreas Christensen in action during the Champions League game between Chelsea and Qarabag on September 12, 2017
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool1714303773045
2Manchester CityMan City17142148103844
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs17130431161539
4Chelsea17114235142137
5Arsenal17104337231434
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd177552929026
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves177461919025
8Everton176652422224
9West Ham UnitedWest Ham177372525024
10Watford177372325-224
11Bournemouth177282528-323
12Leicester CityLeicester176472121022
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton176382024-421
14Newcastle UnitedNewcastle174491422-816
15Crystal Palace1743101423-915
16Cardiff CityCardiff1742111733-1614
17Southampton172691632-1612
18Burnley1733111533-1812
19Huddersfield TownHuddersfield1724111028-1810
20Fulham1723121642-269

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