Image source: Mirror
Manchester United take on Chelsea at Old Trafford tonight, with both teams looking to finish 2015 on a high. The Red Devils have lost their last four games – across all competitions – on the trot, and are facing problems aplenty ahead of this marquee clash against the Londoners, who find themselves in an uncharted territory. Louis van Gaal’s job will be on the line when he takes on his countryman, Guus Hiddink, who has won the last three competitive meetings between the managerial duo. United are 6th on the league table and Chelsea remain close to the relegation zone, in 15th place. Given the situations both teams find themselves in, football fans predict this to be another 0-0 scoreline, with the game not expected to get them too excited. But why could this be the best tussle these two sides have been involved in, in the last two seasons?
When two big dogs go up against each other, the priority usually is to ‘not want to lose’. But I doubt United and Chelsea going into tonight’s game with that mindset. They are not involved in the title race and basically, have got nothing to lose. Both United and Chelsea have already endured many a low point this season, and it’s high time they react to the pervasive situation more than anything else.
Apart from the three vital points at stake tonight, United, obviously, will also be playing for their beleaguered manager. That is a huge fillip for them to go out there and express themselves. Yes, on the attacking front, one could say that they have little ammunition and, as such, might not be able to pose problems for the Chelsea backline that has conceded a whopping 1.6 goals-per-game on average in the league. But a reaction is expected of United, and that does bode well for the game overall.
Both these teams have found victories hard to come by, and one expects them to play to win tonight. From United’s perspective, they are three points behind Tottenham Hotspur, who are in fourth place with 32 points. And before they kick-off against Chelsea, van Gaal’s side will be aware of the result that Mauricio Pochettino’s side manages against Watford at Vicarage Road. Regardless of the result the North London club manages, one expects United to be extremely motivated to claim three points against Hiddink’s side.
Chelsea, on the other hand, find themselves 7 points behind Everton (9th), West Ham United (10th) and Stoke City (11th), three teams that are merely separated by goal difference and have equal number of points: 26. They ought to string together a few wins to get closer to the teams in the top half of the table. Even a draw will not suffice for the defending champions, who, therefore, will come hard at United in this titanic tussle.
Chelsea and United’s attacks will be led by two Frenchmen in Loic Remy and Anthony Martial respectively. Diego Costa is banned for tonight’s game after he picked up a yellow card against Watford last Saturday, making Remy, with Radamel Falcao out with a muscular injury, the only available striker for the visitors. For United, Martial has been one of the positives of the ongoing season. The former AS Monaco striker has handled pressure well on such a big stage, and going up against Chelsea, which is one of the top European sides, must be of serious motivation to the 20-year-old marksman.
Finally, both teams’ defences have question marks over them, strengthening the prospect of football fans seeing some goals being scored tonight. The last four meetings between these sides have produced only 7 goals, with one of the fixtures, on its own, seeing four being scored by both teams combined. With John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea’s defence has been too slow to handle some of the pacey Premier League strikers. From United’s perspective, could Martial, with his pace and admirable close control, help exploit Chelsea’s weakness at the back? At the other end of the pitch, United’s backline has done well to concede a mere 16 goals so far this term. But their last two league clashes have seen them concede 4, against Norwich City and the Potters. Can the likes of Remy, Eden Hazard and Willian harness the drop in form of the Chris Smalling-led United backline?
In the last two seasons, the two teams played this particular fixture at a very early stage when the players had not quite gotten into rhythm and the managers, Jose Mourinho, David Moyes and van Gaal, were not keen to risk losing. This time around, however, we are at the halfway mark in a Premier League season that has seen inexplicable results happen weekend after weekend. And, more than any other reason, both teams desperately need a win, to get their respective seasons back on track.