Chelsea visits Manchester United on Sunday (12 PM EST) in what should be a game full of attacking flare. At the very least, it will surely be more enjoyable on the eye than last August’s dreadfully boring 0-0. Though the result suited Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho, just fine, his squad are much more confident in attack this season and will look to exploit United’s porous defense.
Chelsea may be without strikers Diego Costa and Loic Remy through injury. However, Mourinho believes his squad is more than deep enough to cope, and insists he’s not worried.
‘We don’t cry on injuries. It’s our philosophy, we don’t cry. We just think one injury means an opportunity for somebody else,’ Mourinho said after Tuesday’s 6-0 Champions League win over Maribor.
Left back Cesar Azpilicueta is out through suspension after picking up a red card against Crystal Palace. While, Andre Schurrle and Ramires are both in contention after they returned to training this week.
We should expect Thibault Courtois to start against United. The Belgian has started all eight of Chelsea’s league games this season and is showing no signs of relinquishing the starting role.
The League’s second best defense will have plenty to deal with against a strong United attack on Sunday.
Azpilicueta’s suspension means that Chelsea will field a different defense from the one that’s started all eight Premier League fixtures this season. Summer signing Filipe Luis will be handed his first Premier League start alongside Gary Cahill, John Terry and Branislav Ivanonic. Luis, though not as defensively sound as Azpilicueta, does offer more in attack.
The resurgence of Terry over the last year has been the key to Chelsea’s defensive success. As his pace declined with age, Terry has remained at the top of his game by improving his awareness and timing.
The backline will also be key in attack against United, a team who are susceptible to counter attacks. The defenders will look to quickly turn a pass up field, leaving United shorthanded on the break, while luis and Ivanovic are happy to go forward when given the opportunity.
Jose Mourinho will likely set his midfield out to absorb pressure from United and hit them on the break. Nemanja Matic will be key in this sense. Matic provides cover to the back four and cuts out most attacks before they even materialize. As soon as he wins the ball, he is looking to find Cesc Fabregas, the man who facilitates Chelsea’s attack.
Fabregas controls the pace of the game and is one of the League’s best passers with a completion rate of 90% and a league leading 3.1 key passes per game. As United push men forward, Fabregas will have more space to exploit.
Oscar has settled into the central attacking role nicely over the last month, scoring twice in his last three league games. His willingness to track back in defense and ability to put in a tackle, though, is what could keep Ramires from making his return on Sunday.
Eden Hazard will get the start on the left side. Hazard has been a menace for opposing defenses, leading the league in both key dribbles and fouls drawn. His ability to run with the ball at feet and cut inside could cause problems for a young United defense. Mourinho recently heaped praise upon Hazard, and suggests the decisiveness he showed against Arsenal a few weeks ago is the kind of play that will make him the best in the world.
Willian and Schurrle have been battling for the starting spot on the right all season long. Against a more attack minded opposition, the more consertive option is to start Willian as he is more capable of tracking back. If Mourinho believes he has enough cover in defense, Schurrle is the more clinical finisher and would serve Chelsea well on the counter-attack. Mourinho could leave both out and start Ramires in the middle, pushing Oscar out wide, or play them both with Schurrle in the false nine as he did last year against United. My guess is that Willian gets the start.
The mystery surrounding Diego Costa deepened this week with the news that he was forced into the hospital upon returning from international duty with what is described as a ‘severe stomach bug.’ There is further confusion over his muscle injury as the reported hamstring injury may now be a groin injury.
There is unknown with Remy too, as he stated he hopes to be fit for Sunday, despite the Chelsea boss ruling him out. Mourinho has consistently said he does not want to talk about injuries and some are speculating this is all mind games and either Remy or Costa could show up in uniform come Sunday.
Though, according to Mourinho, Didier Drogba is the only senior striker fit enough to play this weekend. The 36-year-old replaced Remy in midweek, playing 75 minutes. He scored a penalty, and was his usual bullying self, doing great work in the hold-up play.
Dominic Solanke, a man less than half of Drogba’s age, became Chelsea’s youngest ever player in the Champions League this week, and could find himself on the bench against United if the injuries to Costa and Remy prove true.