Chelsea face the second big test of this week when they travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Sunday’s match is the second match of a three-match sequence where the Blues will face Barcelona, Manchester United, and Manchester City in the space of 12 days.
On Tuesday night, Chelsea almost played the perfect match in the first leg of their Champions League tie against Barcelona, but a late mistake from Andreas Christensen led to Barcelona’s equaliser and Lionel Messi ending his goalless drought against the Blues. But there were positives to the way Chelsea played and their commitment against Barcelona that should give them hope on their travels to Manchester over the next week.
All eyes were on the managers’ press conferences this week given the history of comments made between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. However, this time, no headlines were being written, as both managers really refused to engage in a war of words.
It could very well be that both Conte and Mourinho have deeper concerns to worry about heading in to Sunday’s match in terms of team selection and tactics.
Tuesday night, Conte started Eden Hazard as the spearhead of the attack, presumably to give Chelsea more mobility on the counter attack. This season, that tactic has rarely worked, as Chelsea tend to concede a lot of possession and it also curbs Hazard’s natural instincts to drift behind a main striker and find space.
It’s likely that Conte will revert to playing with a true centre forward against United, and he’ll have to decide whether to go with the more physical presence of Olivier Giroud or the more mobile option of Alvaro Morata.
Jose Mourinho has a bit of a problem of his own to solve. Paul Pogba is a puzzle piece that Mourinho hasn’t quite found the right space for, and with rumours swirling around about a falling out between the two, Pogba has not started the last two matches for United, including Wednesday night’s draw against Sevilla.
Against Sevilla, Pogba was left out in favour of 21-year-old Scott McTominay who played in a midfield three alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Pogba did come on for Herrera after the Spaniard was injured, but a message was clearly being sent to the French midfielder.
Mourinho’s team selection on Sunday should say a lot about his trust in Pogba. With Herrera joining Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines due to injury, there’s not a lot of depth in central midfield. Pogba’s clearly not a midfielder that’s suited to play in a 4-2-3-1 alongside Matic, but it also remains to be seen if Mourinho would trust either Michael Carrick or McTominay to play against Chelsea.
It could be a rather tight and cagey affair on Sunday afternoon, especially with the race for the top four being so close. A defeat for either side could see them fall out of the top four, especially with Tottenham playing on Sunday at lunch time.