Manchester United and Chelsea tussle in the biggest match of the Premier League’s opening weekend at Old Trafford on Sunday (11.30am ET).
If you take notice of the odds with the United States’ sportsbooks, then neither of the sides are likely to be title contenders in the 2019-20 season. They will certainly both hope to challenge for a top-four finish. Chelsea came home third last year, while Man Utd were only able to manage sixth, five points off fourth and six behind Chelsea.
That order might not hold this time around. Chelsea have been unable to add to their squad this summer after being handed a transfer ban by FIFA for irregularities in their youth recruitment. Eden Hazard has left for Real Madrid and they will be coached by a relative rookie in the form of former midfielder Frank Lampard, fresh off one year at Derby.
Chelsea are not completely without new faces. Christian Pulisic was signed from Borussia Dortmund in January and after spending the second half of last season back on loan there has now joined up with the Blues. They have also recuperated some young players who made zero or limited appearances for the first team prior to going out on loan elsewhere: Mason Mount, Reece James and Tammy Abraham.
The club have regularly been criticised for not providing a pathway to the first team for the graduates of a youth academy that has enjoyed regular success in age-level competition in recent years, including two UEFA Youth Leagues and five consecutive FA Youth Cups. This season will, therefore, act as an interesting experiment that could set the template for a future philosophy if results work out.
If they don’t, they have a club legend sitting in the dugout to deflect some of the backlash. Lampard did solid work at Derby last year, leading them to the playoff final in the Championship. His side looked less impressive by the underlying numbers and it would be fair to say that he wouldn’t have got the job had he not been a former Chelsea player.
The same could easily be said for the man who will take his place in the opposition dugout on Sunday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as Manchester United’s interim coach following the departure of Jose Mourinho in mid-December of last year and produced sufficiently strong early results to earn himself a permanent, three-year deal at the end of March.
That decision was made to look a little hasty by results thereafter. When he signed the contract, Solskjaer had led his side to 14 wins in 19 matches in all competitions. From that point onwards, they won just two out of 10. Only four clubs accumulated less points than their haul of eight over the final eight matches of the league season.
Solskjaer certainly improved things in comparison to Mourinho, taking 1.90 points per match across his 21 league matches in charge compared to 1.53 under his predecessor. The end result was still a sixth-place finish, a comfortable distance off the top four.
Summer investment has primarily been concentrated upon the defence, with not far short of £130 million laid out to sign Harry Maguire from Leicester and Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace. Whether they will provide enough of an immediate improvement there is questionable. Further forward, Man Utd have also brought in rapid young winger Daniel James from Swansea, although he is likely primarily to be an option off the bench.
Paul Pogba is still on board for now, although with most European transfer windows remaining open until the end of the month or just beyond, there is still a chance that he will depart to one of his prestigious suitors. That would further weaken a midfield zone that looks a little short following the free transfer departure of Ander Herrera. Up front, Romelu Lukaku has left for Inter Milan.
There are still some holes in the United squad that remain unfilled and it is difficult to say with any confidence that they are better equipped for a top-four challenge than they were last season. If anything, both Man Utd and Chelsea may find themselves under threat from the chasing pack behind, especially if a side like Everton, Leicester or Wolverhampton Wanderers enjoys a bit more luck over the course of the campaign.
Our Preview’s Manchester United vs Chelsea Predictions & Picks Verdict
It is necessary to go back to 2013 to find the last away win in a league fixture between these sides, but Chelsea might just have a chance of bucking that trend this weekend.
United are unconvincing and Chelsea are long enough with the bookmakers to make them an attractive option for Sunday’s match.
- Bet on Chelsea to win @ +250 (5/2) with Bovada Sportsbook.