Manchester United and Chelsea looked certain to gain a top four position in the English Premier League only a couple of months ago, but the race has since tightened and there is now much at stake when they meet at Old Trafford on Sunday (9.05am ET).
The Premier League table on 31st December showed Chelsea and United second and third, with United six points clear of fifth place. Now, Man Utd are second and Chelsea are fourth, but just four points separate United from Tottenham Hotspur in fifth.
The excellent form of Liverpool and Tottenham has made it a four-way battle for the three positions behind Manchester City. Some statistical models now present United and Chelsea as the teams most likely to finish fourth and fifth. Both have to face four other top-four contenders in their final 11 matches, whereas Spurs and Liverpool will only face two each.
The first of those encounters is Sunday’s match between the pair of them. Both come into the encounter following draws with Spanish teams in the Champions League in midweek, and both will be seeking a result capable of restoring confidence and belief for the final stretch.
Man Utd secured a 0-0 draw away to Sevilla in their European outing. It was not a particularly convincing performance. Their hosts created the better chances, and it was only a superb save from David de Gea and some slack finishing that prevented United going into the second leg a goal down. They struggled to make any attacking inroads for much of it.
It was the third time in their last four matches in league and European action that United had failed to score, and their eighth consecutive such fixture in which either them, their opponents or both teams have failed to find the back of the net. As they have for much of the season, Man Utd are leaning on the brilliance of De Gea and individual inspiration in attack.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho rightfully praised a determined and tactically proficient performance from young midfielder Scott McTominay in the wake of Wednesday’s match and his other comments laid out clearly his approach against strong opponents. He felt that despite Sevilla’s high number of shots, his team largely had control of defensive situations and he also noted how United had begun to threaten when space opened up later in the match.
The late introductions of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford did, indeed, see Man Utd offer a bit more attacking menace, but it was easy to wonder whether they could have provided that from the start given that United were up against a Sevilla side who had conceded an average of one-and-a-half goals per match prior to Wednesday’s encounter.
Mourinho’s opposite number on Sunday, Antonio Conte usually takes a similar wait and see approach against the big clubs and it is therefore unsurprising that all four of the previous matches between United and Chelsea with their current coaches at the helm ended in wins to nil for the home team, with Chelsea thrice triumphing, including a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
It has been a difficult couple of months for Conte and his side. They have won just five of their 13 matches in all competitions so far this calendar year, suffered three-goal defeats to Bournemouth and Watford and were defeated by Arsenal in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup. There were, though, signs of life in a dogged display at home to Barcelona on Tuesday.
It was certainly not a great spectacle, but Chelsea kept their discipline and made solid progress on the counter-attack in a 1-1 draw. Willian had already struck the crossbar twice with long-range efforts before he finally gave them the lead just past the hour mark. Their amassed defensive numbers seemed to have the better of Barcelona before one errant pass from Andreas Christensen opened up the little bit of space their visitors needed to equalise.
It was a blow, but not one that was sufficient to overshadow all of the good work Chelsea had done up to that point, even if it does make their task in the return leg a lot more difficult. It was a performance that showed that despite their recent struggles, they are still capable of competing strongly against other big teams over the course of 90 minutes.
Sunday’s match against United is likely to be a similarly attritional affair, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if it, too, ended in a low-scoring draw.
Our Preview’s Man Utd vs. Chelsea Betting Picks & Predictions Conclusion
Taking into account our comments in this preview, and the cautious approach each team is likely to have to the other, particularly in the early stages, then a stalemate could be the result. So when it comes to a wager with the USA online sports betting sites, our Man Utd vs Chelsea prediction and suggestion for the betting pick is: