Manchester United will take on Chelsea on Sunday afternoon as two of the Premier League’s heavyweights prepare to clash at Old Trafford.
But the fixture will take on an importance of a different kind than it has in previous seasons, with José Mourinho’s and Antonio Conte’s sides having struggled to challenge Pep Guardiola’s table-topping Manchester City this term.
Despite that, both sides still look on course to finish in the top four and earn a Champions League spot, although just three points separate the sides with eleven league outings remaining – a defeat would be a blow for the losing team's pursuit of European football.
Bailly back in defence
That could lead to a conservative outlook from the two managers, with Mourinho and Conte perhaps as determined to get one over one another as they are to see their own side succeed, given the hostility between the pair since they took on their respective roles in the summer of 2016.
Both teams will have their strongest sides out and for United, that obviously means David de Gea will start in goal. Antonio Valencia is an equally clear-cut choice to start at right-back and it’s hard to see Luke Shaw being handed in a chance in a game of this magnitude in the other full-back role, so Ashley Young is likely to get the nod.
United haven’t defended so well in recent outings against higher quality opponents – January’s away defeat to Tottenham Hotspur the obvious example – so it wouldn’t be too great a surprise to see him thrown back in the action. He could be partnered by Chris Smalling, who hasn’t been in the best of form but has been a regular face in the Red Devils’ backline recently.
Chance for Pogba to shine
Paul Pogba should return in midfield after being dropped to the bench for the last two games. But, the game could be well poised for the Frenchman, with Mourinho perhaps more likely to set out in the 4-3-3 formation which suits Pogba best in an attempt to stifle Conte’s Chelsea, which should allow the flamboyant 24-year-old more freedom in attack.
Nemanja Matić is another man sure to face his former club while either Michael Carrick or Scott McTominay will complete the midfield trio – the former could be in Mourinho’s plans after not featuring in Seville.
The attack will have a familiar look – Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez should keep their places, but Juan Mata’s spot is probably up for grabs. Mourinho will want another man in the attack to press Chelsea’s defence and although Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial could certainly carry out that role, Jesse Lingard could get the nod given how much the manager has trusted him in big games.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Young; Carrick, Matić, Pogba; Lingard, Lukaku, Alexis.