MX23RW : Tuesday, November 13 03:22:02

Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester United - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole looks ahead to Jose Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge as he takes his struggling Manchester United side to face in-form Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho will make his latest return to Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime when he takes his struggling Manchester United side to face former club Chelsea.

United returned to winning ways before the international break, but still find themselves seven points off the early-season pace, which Chelsea have set alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.


Chelsea

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri celebrates after watching his side beat Huddersfield Town on August 11, 2018© Reuters

While much of the pre-match buildup will inevitably focus on the turmoil at United and their former boss Mourinho, current manager Maurizio Sarri has quickly turned Chelsea into a team with genuine ambitions of regaining the title.

The Blues were absent from most discussions regarding potential challengers to Manchester City's crown before the season began, but Sarri has hit the ground running in the Premier League and even a draw on Saturday would put his side top of the table, if only temporarily.

Chelsea are currently level on 20 points alongside Man City and Liverpool, with only those two teams having conceded fewer and only City and Arsenal having scored more in the opening eight games.

Only twice before have Chelsea gone nine games unbeaten at the start of a season, and on both occasions they went on to win the title - once under Mourinho in 2005-06 and then again in 2014-15.

The hosts will be favourites to achieve that feat for a third time this weekend, having returned to winning ways in the Premier League following back-to-back draws with a comfortable 3-0 triumph away to Southampton before the international break.

Once again Eden Hazard sparkled with a goal and an assist at St Mary's, and in general when the Belgian is in such form Chelsea tend to do well. Indeed, Hazard is already halfway to his tally of 14 league goals from the title-winning 2014-15 campaign, and the only season in which he has scored more for Chelsea was in 2016-17, when they again lifted the trophy.

While Hazard has been the jewel in the crown, there has been a vast improvement from the whole team under Sarri this season, with Jorginho slotting straight in, Antonio Rudiger starring in defence and the likes of David Luiz and Ross Barkley being brought back in from the cold.

It is now 11 matches across all competitions since Chelsea lost to Man City in the Community Shield, and that run could continue for the foreseeable future with no more top-six showdowns until November 24 after this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur will be the opponents on that occasion, and incidentally they were the last team to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the beginning of April, since when the Blues have won six and drawn three, including four wins from five this season.

Chelsea have a formidable home record against Manchester United too, and they will be heavily fancied to extend that and continue their promising start to the campaign on Saturday.

Recent Premier League form: WWWDDW
Recent form (all competitions): WDWDWW


Manchester United

Jose Mourinho makes a 'small penis' gesture on September 29, 2018© Reuters

The only time of comparable strife in the managerial career of Jose Mourinho came while in charge of Saturday's opponents in 2015-16 when he oversaw a catastrophic defence of the title Chelsea had won the previous season.

It took until December for Chelsea to sack him on that occasion, with the club languishing in 16th place, but it looked as though United would act quicker when they found themselves two goals down to Newcastle United in their most recent outing.

Reports before that match suggested that Mourinho would be fired regardless of the result, but it is entirely possible that only a 20-minute spell at the end of the game has given him a stay of execution.

The irony of Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez - all of whom have suffered run-ins with Mourinho - being the ones to save his job will not be lost on most fans, although the manager himself deserves credit for helping to turn the game back in United's favour.

Mourinho's star has fallen dramatically since he declared himself as 'The Special One' in his opening press conference as Chelsea boss - and then backed it up in his first two seasons - but he showed a glimpse of his old tactical nous by utilising a makeshift back three of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Chris Smalling to help wrest control of the game back from Newcastle.

Of course, one victory will not paper over the cracks that undoubtedly remain at United - however rousing the comeback may have been - and Mourinho will know as much as anybody how bleak his future looked when his side were two goals down inside 10 minutes.

The international break may well have come at the wrong time for the Red Devils, stunting the momentum built from that win, although one thing the result did show is that these players are still willing to fight for their manager - or at least the club - despite so many reports of unrest behind the scenes.

United are still some way off the pace, though. The top five are separated by only two points, but Mourinho's men are a further five points adrift and have already lost more Premier League matches this season than champions Manchester City did throughout the whole of last season.

The 20-time champions of England have also lost three of their last six Premier League away games and eight of their last 13 league visits to London - as many as they had lost in their previous 39 visits to the capital.

On top of that, Mourinho has himself lost four of his last five away games against his former clubs, including all three at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea during his time as United manager.

The odds of that record improving will be against him this weekend, and with matches against Juventus and Everton to come next week too, the speculation over Mourinho's future is bound to kick into overdrive once again should they fall back into losing ways.

Recent Premier League form: LWWDLW
Recent form (all competitions): WDLLDW


Team News

Nemanja Matic in action for Manchester United in the Champions League on September 19, 2018© Reuters

United could be without as many as eight first-team players for this weekend's match, including the likes of Matic, Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard.

Matic and Shaw were forced to withdraw from their respective national squads due to injury, while Lingard remains sidelined by a groin injury and is not expected to recover in time for this weekend.

Marcos Rojo is also still out, while Ander Herrera, Scott McTominay and Marouane Fellaini will face late fitness tests amid concerns over their availability.

Mourinho must decide whether to go with three at the back from the start after the system's relative success against Newcastle, although he is expected to match up against Chelsea's 4-3-3 formation.

Goalscorers Mata and Sanchez are pushing for starts this weekend, although the latter played the full 90 minutes for Chile on Wednesday and so Saturday's early kickoff may come too soon for him.

The centre-back partnership will be of much intrigue after Eric Bailly was hooked just 19 minutes into the win over Newcastle, while at the other end Romelu Lukaku will be hoping to rediscover his goalscoring touch for the club.

The striker has scored more goals for Belgium than he has for United this season, going six games without finding the back of the net for his club. Lukaku is also goalless in 12 previous appearances at Stamford Bridge, including eight games while a Chelsea player.

The hosts' main injury concern surrounds Rudiger, who pulled out of the Germany squad during the recent break due to a groin problem.

Ethan Ampadu is also a doubt for Sarri's side, although the Italian should be able to name a side similar to the one which cruised past Southampton last time out.

Hazard is the league's top scorer with seven, while he is also the only player to have had a hand in 10 or more goals this season having also registered three assists.

The league's most creative player so far this season has been the unlikely figure of Olivier Giroud, who leads the assist chart with four.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Giroud, Hazard

Man Utd possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Fred, Fellaini, Pogba; Mata, Lukaku, Rashford


Head To Head

Chelsea have been United's bogey side in the Premier League, with the Red Devils having lost more games against the Blues (18) than against any other side in the division.

Indeed, Chelsea are one of only two clubs United have lost more games against than they won in the competition - the other being Brighton & Hove Albion - and they hold a particularly poor record at Stamford Bridge.

United have won just one of their last 16 league visits to the stadium, losing 10 of those. In all competitions they have lost each of the last three visits without scoring.

The most recent meeting saw Chelsea run out 1-0 winners in May's FA Cup final, but United emerged victorious from the last Premier League clash at Old Trafford in February.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Chelsea 2-0 Man Utd

United will be hoping that they can still harness some of the momentum from their win over Newcastle, but this is not an ideal game with which to follow that up. Chelsea are in form and have the prospect of moving clear at the top of the table, so we're going for a home win.


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Who will win Saturday's Premier League clash between Chelsea and Manchester United?

Chelsea
Draw
Man Utd
Chelsea
61.3%
Draw
14.0%
Man Utd
24.7%
Paul Pogba reacts while in action for Manchester United on September 22, 2018
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Combined XI: Chelsea vs. Man Utd
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City1210203653132
2Liverpool129302351830
3Chelsea128402781928
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs1290320101027
5Arsenal1273226151124
6Bournemouth126242116520
7Watford126241714320
8Manchester UnitedMan Utd126242021-120
9Everton125431915419
10Leicester CityLeicester125251716117
11Wolverhampton WanderersWolves124441213-116
12Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton124261318-514
13West Ham UnitedWest Ham123361418-412
14Newcastle UnitedNewcastle12237915-69
15Burnley122371225-139
16Crystal Palace12228817-98
17Southampton12156821-138
18Cardiff CityCardiff122281125-148
19Huddersfield TownHuddersfield12147622-167
20Fulham121291131-205

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