Pre-Match briefing: Chelsea vs Manchester United

Footie’s back – and with it comes one of the most anticipated home fixtures of any Premier League season. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton mull over the talking points ahead of Monday night’s action…

Only a third of the season remains to be played and a Chelsea victory on Monday (it would be the first in four league matches) would lift the Blues nine points above Manchester United with 12 games remaining.

With the winter break over, this is the first of a series of crucial games for Chelsea, with Stamford Bridge hosting five of the next six. Over the coming weeks the Blues, fifth in UEFA’s 10-year coefficient rankings, will face those placed seventh (Man United), 16th (Tottenham), third (Bayern), 85th (Wolves) and 14th (Liverpool).

It is also, of course, the reverse of the opening weekend fixture. Frank Lampard will feel his side have unfinished business from a game the Blues dominated for long spells and a scoreline that distorted the performances of both.

It is actually 32 years since Man United secured a league ‘double’ against the Londoners, but only Palace have earned fewer points than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side since the turn of the year, and they have failed to find the net in each of their past three Premier League outings.

Do remember that the kick-off time for Chelsea’s first Monday fixture since April is set at eight o’ clock.

Key Stat:

Chelsea have lost just one of our past 17 Premier League home games against Manchester United (10 wins, six draws), and are unbeaten in the last six.

Mind the gap

The point earned at Leicester could be one where the value can only truly be assessed after the next few challenges are overcome, especially this match and Tottenham’s visit on Saturday.

The splitting of this round of matches meant Sheffield United gained further ground last weekend to position themselves two points behind the Blues, and a host of clubs could be clustered around the Blades before Monday’s 8pm kick-off comes around. (All Premier League matches across the weekend are live on television, so it will be easy to keeps tabs.)

At Old Trafford on the opening weekend Chelsea had the lion’s share of possession, shots on target and corners, and hit the goal-frame twice, but were sucker-punched by United’s efficiency on the counter-attack.

There is no reason to suspect the Mancunians, true believers in playing out from back, will be any different on Monday, allowing the Blues to pressure their rearguard into mistakes as before. It is worth remembering United will be without their leading striker Marcus Rashford for this match, and that Callum Hudson-Odoi and Toni Rudiger missed our August meeting, while N’Golo Kante was far from fully fit.

Only two sides have conceded more league goals from set-plays than Man United, and at Leicester Rudiger showed a new proficiency in that area by scoring the first headed brace by a Chelsea centre-back since John Terry at Fulham in April 2013. Just five defenders at other clubs have now scored more than him and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Premier League goals by defenders

Cesar Azpilicueta 2
Toni Rudiger 2
Marcos Alonso 1
Fikayo Tomori 1

There is actually a 186-goal differential between the number of shots the Blues have attempted and those conceded in the league this season (407 to 221), the second highest after Manchester City.

Frank Lampard will again urge his forwards to find their clinical edge. Even though eight of Tammy Abraham’s 13 Premier League goals this season have given Chelsea the lead in a match – a contribution no other player at any club can match – the Blues’ chance-conversion rate is comparatively low.

Premier League goalscorers

Jamie Vardy 17
Sergio Aguero 16
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 14
Danny Ings 14
Marcus Rashford 14
Mohamed Salah 14
Tammy Abraham 13

Solskjaer’s signings

Manchester United made two additions in January: Odion Ighalo from Shanghai Shenhua and Bruno Fernandes, formerly of Sporting Lisbon. At his best, for Quique Sanchez Flores’s Watford, Ighalo was the natural finisher in an old-school centre-forward pairing with chance-creator Troy Deeney. Last season the Nigerian was 22nd in the China Super League list of leading goalscorers with 10 (one more than former Blue, Oscar).

The 30-year-old Nigerian’s involvement on Monday is in some doubt, though, as his last match action was in early December and he has been training by himself rather than meeting his new club-mates at their training camp in Andalusia.

Fernandes, meanwhile, made his debut a fortnight ago in a 0-0 with Wolves while Nemanja Matic served a suspension. The Portuguese was immediately put on set-pieces for the Red Devils and seems earmarked as a no.10, firing off shots and creating chances.

FA Cup and Champions League catch-up

Chelsea’s meeting with Liverpool in March will be the first between the sides in the FA Cup outside the semi-final or final since the Blues’ unforgettable 4-2 comeback win in January 1997, also shown live on BBC One.

Bayern have made changes to their Champions League squad for the knockout stage: Alphonso Davies and Joshua Zirkzee have replaced Sandro Wagner and Frank Evina.

Home and away

This match between Chelsea and Man United pits the 10th best team under their own roof against the 10th best team on the road. Chelsea are one of only three top-flight clubs who have earned more points away than at home this term, while Manchester United have gained half as many points on other grounds as they have at Old Trafford.

On their travels, Solskjaer’s men have also been outscored by 11 goals to five in the second half, while two-thirds of the goals conceded by the Blues at the Bridge have come over the second 45.

Chasing pack’s extra commitments

United will have just two days to recover after this match before facing a first leg against Bruges on Thursday, with the return in Belgium a week later. Along with fellow Europa League clubs Arsenal and Wolves, they must navigate a Round of 32 the Champions League does not have.

Should they beat the Belgians, the Round of 16 games in March would increase United’s workload to 11 matches over five weeks. Chelsea will play nine fixtures over the same period.

Coming up

Next visitors to the Bridge, Tottenham, host Leipzig on Wednesday in the Champions League Round of 16, leaving two days to rest and prepare for Saturday’s lunchtime start.

Emma Hayes’s WSL table-toppers switch competitions to take on Liverpool in round five of the WFA Cup at Kingsmeadow on Sunday from 12.30pm. Tickets can be bought here. The match can also be watched via the red button on BBC channels.

Chelsea Under-18s’ reward for putting seven past Wolves in the FA Youth Cup on Monday will be a quarter-final clash with Millwall, conquerors of Bournemouth, at Stamford Bridge. Ed Brand’s team now have an aggregate of 16-0 over the cup campaign.

Mid-season breaks past

This is the first game back following Chelsea’s longest mid-season break for 26 years, when a west London derby with Queen’s Park Rangers slated for Sky Sports coverage on Monday 20 December was abruptly postponed at 4.45pm on the day because the Loftus Road pitch was waterlogged.

The enforced pause between 11 and 27 December 1993 appeared to help Glenn Hoddle’s men: striker Mark Stein, previously goalless in seven league games, suddenly embarked on a record scoring run, scoring in seven successive matches, and the Blues won away (at Swindon on New Year’s Day) for the first time since beating Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane 13 months earlier.

Almost exactly the same window (12-27 December) was also created in 2010 by the unexpected postponement of Manchester Utd’s visit to Stamford Bridge after heavy snowfall, delaying Frank Lampard’s return from injury for Carlo Ancelotti’s defending Double-winners.

This time around the planned break featured genuine down-time followed by what Lampard described as a mini-pre-season, ahead of fixtures that will help define the club’s season.

Premier League fixtures and results

Wolves 0 Leicester 0

Southampton v Burnley 12.30pm 
Norwich v Liverpool 5.30pm 

Aston Villa v Tottenham 2pm 
Arsenal v Newcastle 4.30pm 

Chelsea v Manchester United 8pm

Source: Chelsea FC

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