Chelsea aims to put a miserable UEFA Champions League result behind it as Antonio Conte’s side welcomes Manchester United on Sunday.
The Italian is under pressure following a 3-0 defeat to Roma on Tuesday night and welcomes his rival, Jose Mourinho, to Stamford Bridge in a clash between Premier League heavyweights.
United, in contrast, is coming into the game fresh off a 2-0 win over Benfica and Mourinho’s side will look to down a second title rival in the space of a week after beating Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday.
Our friends at Football Whispers take a look at where the game could be won and lost and uses its unique algorithm to predict the most likely starting XI.
Key Battle: Romelu Lukaku v Gary Cahill
Tuesday wasn’t a good night for any of Chelsea’s defenders inside the Stadio Olimpico, but Gary Cahill will need to dust himself off after that humbling experience as he prepares to face United’s Belgian forward.
Lukaku, who was a Chelsea transfer target in the summer before joining United, has scored seven goals already this season but hasn’t netted in his last five. However, the former Everton favorite will fancy his chances against a brittle Blues defense that has had only one shutout in its last eight games.
Lukaku doesn’t have the happiest memories of facing Chelsea, however. Last season, he failed to score both home and away against Conte’s charges, as Everton lost 3-0 and 5-0. Spearheading a more confident attack, though, Lukaku should see this game as an opportunity to silence a few critics and prove that he does not go “missing” in the big games.
He will be up against one of the most experienced defenders in the league, however, and Cahill has succeeded with 86 percent of his tackles so far this season.
With plenty of positional sense and mobility, the England international will be a tough nut to crack for the Belgian, but they should provide one of Sunday’s most intriguing battles.
Potential game winners: Anthony Martial (Man United) & Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Anthony Martial was back to somewhere near his best against Benfica, terrorizing the Portuguese side’s defense. Although he missed a penalty, his footwork and close control in the build-up to winning it was particularly eye-catching.
The Frenchman hasn’t always looked like the happiest of players under Mourinho but he seems to have regained a semblance of the confidence that lifted him to 17 goals in his first season at Old Trafford. His recent displays have not gone unnoticed at international level, either, earning a call-up to the France squad for the upcoming exhibitions against Germany and Wales.
Martial has six goals and six assists to his name already this season and, although he has often made a devastating impact off the bench, he deserves a place in the starting lineup Sunday.
Chelsea boast their own exciting talent, too, in Eden Hazard. The Roma game aside, the Belgian playmaker has been in scintillating form for the Blues and is likely to play a pivotal role for Conte once again. The 26-year-old has three goals and an assist in his last four games and starred in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over United last season.
Hazard averages 2.3 key passes and 2.9 successful dribbles per match, so his skill and craft will be key to unlocking the Red Devils’ defense.
How they’ll line up
Football Whispers uses data to predict the starting line-ups for sides by accounting for a number of different factors, including injuries, suspensions, the statistical likelihood to play, the match the competition is played, the player’s previous performance and the style of the opposition.
N’Golo Kante is in line to return to action following a hamstring injury, but Victor Moses still is ruled out. Although there is a question mark over whether Kante is ready to return, Conte may feel the need to throw him back into the action immediately considering how poor Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas were against Roma.
Manchester United is without several players for Sunday’s clash, but such is the depth of talent available to Mourinho, they should be able to absorb those injuries with minimal fuss.
Marouane Fellaini is still out with knee ligament damage, so Ander Herrera is expected to return to the lineup after being rested for the Benfica game. Paul Pogba (hamstring) is unavailable while Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee) and Marcos Rojo (knee) are yet to resume training. Marcus Rashford may start ahead of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/NBC Sports
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