This seems to be the week for reunions, there was one on Thursday and one coming up on Sunday. Jose Mourinho will play at Stamford Bridge although as an opposition manager this time. It will be a bittersweet occasion, sweet because of all that he has won there and bitter because, well, the last season. All in all, it remains an exciting proposition a game.
A thumping win over Fenerbahce was probably the best way to go in to this crucial tie. A dominant performance backed up by some superior individual ones made the game a perfect launchpad for the Sunday fixture. However, the lack of spare days in between would mean that the squad will have some changes. The tactics, too, might change, with it being an away game and also as the opposition is far more formidable. But in spite of the possible change in tactics and squad, the core of the team will most probably remain the same.
Starting XI (4-2-3-1)
In spite of the same formation, there was a lot of difference between the gameplay at Anfield and on Thursday night. Similarly, the formation might remain the same for this game too, however, the gameplay may vary.
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
After the small dip in form and the blip against Stoke City, De Gea is back to his very best. That save against Philippe Coutinho would be right there at the top amongst the best. He will be looking to keep up the good work and maintain the “De Gea” levels.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind
Valencia and Blind were rested against Fenerbahce and can be expected to return to the starting XI in this game. Valencia has been a lot better under Mourinho with his directness and effectiveness. Blind, on the other hand, has been crafty and the footballing brain at the back to build the play up. There might be a small doubt on Smalling’s fitness, although one would like to believe it is nothing more than a niggle that he felt in the last game.
Central Midfielders – Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
Michael Carrick was immense for United against Fenerbahce but one can still expect Herrera to get back in to the XI. This is how Mourinho wants to operate. Rotate when needed and bring back his first choice players otherwise. Herrera has really impressed a lot under Mourinho and the manager himself has been singing the Spaniard’s praises. The man of the match from other night, Paul Pogba, would have had some respite after the constant criticism that he has faced since his arrival. With a couple of goals and impressive overall performance, he got exactly what was needed from that game, self-confidence.
Wingers – Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford
Lingard, in spite of playing in the last game, can be expected to start the Chelsea game. He too, like a few others, had a very good game, with an assist and a goal to his name. It is his work-rate which puts him above a couple other contenders for the spot and Mourinho likes to have his players contributing on both fronts, attack, and defense. Lingard gives him just that and hence seems to be a good option. Rashford who was rested on Thursday should be back in the side and can occupy the left flank.
Number 10 – Juan Mata
Mata, again, had a very good game in the number 10 role. He has not looked back ever since he moved to this position. The creativity, intelligent balls, and improved transition in the final third is what the Spaniard brings to the table. Mourinho might look to him again to be that creative supply to the forwards and will hope that he keeps up his performances.
Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swedish striker was also rested in the last game and Wayne Rooney took his spot. It was a big game for Rooney but it ended up being disappointing again. There doesn’t seem to be a way up for Rooney right now and with Ibrahimovic in the side, it is difficult for the manager to choose Rooney over him.
This is an extremely important game for Mourinho as losing any points at this stage will make it difficult to come back and fight for the title. United might still be five points behind the leaders but they are at least within the touching distance. A win in this game can see them rise above Chelsea and that is what the Red Devils should aim for. A midweek Derby is looming large but for now, all the focus should be on Bridge and the ways to overcome Chelsea.