A brace of teams locked in a battle for fourth place in the Premier League meet in the FA Cup fifth round when Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Monday (2.30pm ET).
In the league, just one point separates Man Utd in fourth from Arsenal and Chelsea in fifth and sixth. Chelsea held a position of some strength a couple of months back, but as they have stuttered, so United have found their form under interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Since Solskjaer took over from the sacked Jose Mourinho in mid-December, Man Utd have accumulated a league-high 25 points from eight wins and a draw, scoring 23 and conceding just six. Chelsea, by contrast, have picked up just 13 points in that time, the ninth-best record in the league, from four wins, one draw, four defeats and a goal difference of negative five.
Chelsea have failed to score five times during that run, but their questionable form goes back even further than that. After an unbeaten start to the campaign, they have lost six of their last 15 matches and have only twice put together consecutive victories in that time. They remain alive in all cup competitions, but their Premier League form is a cause for concern.
Maurizio Sarri watched on exasperated as his side fell to a 0-6 defeat away to Manchester City last weekend. City were four goals to the good inside the opening 25 minutes and could have made it even more embarrassing for a Chelsea side just two match-days removed from a similarly comprehensive (and less excusable) defeat away to Bournemouth.
While Sarri was swiftly able to implement the framework of his possession-based style of play, the assumption was that his side would develop further as the season progressed. That is something that doesn’t appear to have happened. Now, a top-four place that at one stage looked theirs for the taking is very much up in the air.
Sarri is a coach who isn’t shy about telling it as it is or certainly as how he sees it, and has aimed slightly barbed comments at both his players and the Chelsea directorship over the last month or so. His future in the role beyond this season may be at risk if he isn’t able to turn things around in the league, even if he does snag himself some silverware, as his predecessor Antonio Conte did by winning the FA Cup last season.
His opposite number on Monday was expecting to return to his native Norway and his job as head coach of Molde when the Premier League season came to a close. However Solskjaer’s results since taking over are beginning to make a case for him remaining in charge for at least another season, especially so if Man Utd are unable to attract their favored targets.
United’s 0-2 defeat at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday did, though, make it clear that all has not been fixed by a strong sequence of results against generally weaker opposition. Their visitors always looked the more comfortable of the two sides, and once Man Utd lost two rapid attacking outlets to injury, PSG pushed forward to secure a key advantage ahead of the return leg with two quick-fire goals just before the hour.
It was a somewhat humbling experience for a side who can come into the tie believing themselves capable of progressing. Solskjaer has made it clear they need to pick themselves up quickly in order refocus on other objectives. With three of the Premier League top six already eliminated, the FA Cup represents a viable route to glory.
Solskjaer won the competition twice in his time as a Manchester United player, including as part of the side who eliminated Chelsea in the last eight en route to winning the 1999 edition.
Our Preview’s Chelsea vs Man Utd Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
It is Chelsea who have come out on top in recent contests. They defeated United 1-0 in last season’s final, with Eden Hazard scoring the decisive goal from the penalty spot, and also triumphed by the same scoreline when they met in the quarter-final in 2017.
Add to that the fact that Man Utd have failed to win at Stamford Bridge in any competition since 2012 and it is easy to see why Chelsea are favorites with our trusted USA sportsbooks to emerge victorious from Monday’s encounter.
However United are in the better form at this stage of the season and have some established forwards who will be keen to make a point after losing their places to now-injured colleagues since Solskjaer took over. Man Utd should be fancied to progress to the last eight of the FA Cup.
- Bet on Manchester United to win @ best odds of +270 with Bovada.