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Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester United

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea will attempt to continue their strong run of form against Manchester United when they welcome Louis van Gaal's top-four chasers to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.

The hosts are unbeaten in their last six Premier League games against Man United and have also not suffered defeat since interim boss Guus Hiddink took control of first-team affairs in December.


Chelsea

Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink on December 23, 2015© Getty Images

It will take more than a eight-game unbeaten run in the Premier League for the Chelsea supporters to accept what has been a poor season for the English champions, but there is no question that they are in better shape now than they were earlier in the campaign. A disastrous opening to the season led to Jose Mourinho leaving his position as head coach and eyebrows were raised when Hiddink was given the job on an interim basis for the second time.

The Dutchman's first league game in charge was a 3-1 win over Sunderland and Chelsea have still not been beaten under the stewardship of the experienced boss. In their eight games under Hiddink, they have won three and drawn five, which has seen them jump a couple of places into 13th position. When they won 1-0 at Arsenal on January 24, some claimed that the champions could still finish in the top four, but they are currently 16 points off fourth-placed Arsenal following a 0-0 draw at Watford on Wednesday night.

Chelsea's record from 24 league games this season reads: won seven, drawn eight and lost nine. They are 11 points off fifth-placed Man United, but as mentioned, they are currently on a six-game unbeaten run against the Red Devils and they have only lost one of their last 13 home Premier League games against the 20-time English champions.

The Blues have drawn their last three home games in the league, however, and they have never drawn four in a row on home soil since the Premier League started. The reverse match at Old Trafford just after Christmas finished 0-0, but Chelsea recorded a 1-0 victory when Man United made the trip to London towards the end of last season.

The top four might be beyond Chelsea, but they will have their eyes on a top-seven finish. After this one, they have a favourable run, which includes games against Newcastle United, Norwich City and Stoke City. That said, quite incredibly, the current English champions have still not recorded back-to-back league wins this season.

The likes of John Terry, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa have started to perform on a regular basis, however, while John Obi Mikel - a favourite of Hiddink - has tightened up matters in the middle of the park. The hierarchy will already be planning for next season in terms of the Premier League, but Chelsea are still in the Champions League and will more than likely need to win that competition if they are to bring top-level European football to Stamford Bridge next season.

Recent form: DWDDWD
Recent form (all competitions): WDDWWD


Man United

Anthony Martial celebrates getting United's second during the Premier League game between Manchester United and Stoke on February 2, 2016© Getty Images

Chelsea, realistically, cannot finish in the top four this season, but Man United now have fourth-placed Arsenal in their sights following an impressive 3-0 win over Stoke City on Tuesday night. It was the second successive match where the Red Devils had scored three goals and they will enter Sunday's match at Stamford Bridge looking to continue what has been a solid start to 2016.

A 1-0 home defeat to Southampton on January 23 brought a furious reaction from the supporters, but that has been their only defeat since the turn of the year. They were 1-0 winners at Liverpool in their last Premier League away match and also secured their spot in the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 3-1 success over Derby County at the end of last month. The pressure is still firmly on Van Gaal, but the Dutchman's record against the so-called bigger teams in the top flight is actually very strong.

For all Man United's struggles throughout the season, they are only 10 points off the top of the table, which is an indication of what type of campaign it has been. The title seems a long way off, but they are chasing down Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, while Leicester City will also be wary of upcoming games against Man City (this weekend) and Arsenal.

Anthony Martial's form over the last few weeks has been a big plus for the Red Devils, while the much-criticised Wayne Rooney has scored five goals in his last five Premier League appearances, which is more than he managed in his previous 25 appearances in the competition. Juan Mata was also impressive against Stoke, but the Spaniard will travel to his former club on Sunday having not scored or assisted in his last 12 - his longest spell without involvement of that kind during his Premier League career.

As mentioned, however, Man United have struggled against Chelsea in recent years, winning on just one of their last 13 Premier League trips to Stamford Bridge. The Red Devils have also lost more times to the Blues (16) than against any other opponent in the Premier League.

Van Gaal's side have a FA Cup fifth-round date with Shrewsbury Town at the end of this month, in addition to a two-legged tie with Midtjylland in the Europa League. They face two Premier League games before that, however, with Sunderland away to come after this one. Six points from an available six would certainly keep the pressure off Van Gaal for a couple more weeks.

Recent form: DWDWLW
Recent form (all competitions): WDWLWW


Team News

Eden Hazard congratulates little Oscar during the FA Cup game between MK Dons and Chelsea on January 31, 2016© Getty Images

Chelsea boss Hiddink revealed at his press conference that only Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao are out of his squad for the match.

Pedro missed training earlier in the week with a groin problem but should feature, although January signing Alexandre Pato is on a special "pre-season" training programme and will not be involved for a couple of weeks.

Terry is also expected to start despite his contract saga, while Eden Hazard, who is still waiting for his first Premier League goal of the season, is also expected to return to the starting XI ahead of Oscar.

As for Man United, Bastian Schweinsteiger is still out of action, while Phil Jones will also miss out once again. Marcos Rojo, according to Van Gaal, is progressing, but this match will also come too soon for the Argentine.

Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are all still on the sidelines, meaning that Cameron Borthwick-Jackson will continue at left-back, while Van Gaal must decide between Jesse Lingard and the currently out-of-favour Memphis Depay in the final third.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Zouma, Azpiliceuta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Hazard; Costa

Man United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson; Carrick, Fellaini; Martial, Mata, Lingard; Rooney


Head To Head

As mentioned, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last six Premier League games against Man United - winning three times in the process, while Man United have won just one of their last 13 league matches at Stamford Bridge.

Recent history suggests that there will not be many goals in this match, with just three scored in their last three meetings. There have also been four red cards shown in the last five Premier League games between the two teams at Stamford Bridge.

Man United's last away win at Chelsea in the league was in October 2012, when Javier Hernandez scored a late winner.


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We say: Chelsea 1-1 Man United

Chelsea have turned a corner under Hiddink, but it is difficult to say that this is the Blues team of last season. They have almost become the draw specialists in the league and that appears to be the most likely outcome this weekend.

Man United need to continue picking up results as they chase down the top four and might well settle for a point. Martial versus Branislav Ivanovic down the Chelsea right will be a match-up to keep a close eye on throughout the game.



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Matteo Darmian of Manchester United on the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
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