It’s another blockbuster FA Cup tie for Manchester United, as the Red Devils travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the 5th round of the tournament. The two rivals may be in a tight race for the 4th and final Champions League qualification spot in the league, but there will be no points on offer on Monday. Instead, the promise of a trophy will be on the line, as both sides look to make the most of England’s premier cup competition.
For the first time under boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United will have to prove that they can rebound from a tough loss. It was a massively disappointing European night last Tuesday, as the Red Devils fell 2-0 to Paris Saint-Germain at home. It was the performance that was most worrying, as the United attack looked like a shell of themselves, and never truly threatened the PSG goal. They were bossed in the midfield as well, and the frustration boiled over late as Paul Pogba was sent off with a few minutes to go. It was the first loss for the Norwegian manager, who now has to prove that he can bounce back after facing genuine adversity. It won’t be getting any easier for him, as United have to host Liverpool next following Monday’s game. The team will need to have confidence going into that massive derby, and could benefit greatly from a solid win against the Blues.
“You have to bounce back at this club,” said Solskjaer in a press conference ahead of the fixture. “You'll always have challenges, and away against Chelsea is one of the tougher challenges, so let's just make sure the next two or three days in training are good so we are ready for Monday.”
For Chelsea, they are a club undergoing a crisis at the moment. After such a promising start under Maurizio Sarri, it’s all becoming to fall apart. The massive lead they had over United in the league has disappeared, and the Blues now sit in 6th behind London rivals Arsenal. It started with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Bournemouth, and the team most recently got blown to bits by Manchester City, conceding six goals at the Etihad Stadium. Some are surprised to see that Sarri is still the coach, but that won’t last long if the results don’t change. Chelsea desperately need a spark to revive their season, and a win over United on Monday could be just what the Blues need to get themselves back on track.
“Nobody is pleased when you lose games the way we have recently,” said assistant manager Gianfranco Zola, who spoke at the pre-match press conference instead of Sarri. “We know it’s a moment in which we’ve alternated results and that’s something we don’t like. We know we have to be consistent. We have the team to afford to do that and it’s important everyone understands the situation and is working on it, players, coaches and the club. It’s not the challenge, but it’s the unity facing the challenge which makes the difference and I believe we have that.”
Last time out
It was a barnstormer of a match when these two sides faced off earlier in the season at Stamford Bridge. The times were much different back then, as Chelsea were still unbeaten under new boss Sarri, while United were enduring a tough spell with then manager Jose Mourinho.
The Blues took the lead after Antonio Rudiger headed home from a corner, and the home side were in complete control of the contest. However, Anthony Martial would put the Red Devils on his back, scoring a spectacular brace to give United a surprise lead.
Just when it seemed the away side would pick up the vital three points, Ross Barkley reacted first to a loose ball in the area to equalize in the final minute of the game. It was the fair result at the end of the day, with both sides content enough to take a point from the fixture.
United suffered two big injury blows on Tuesday night as well, as Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial came off before halftime in the game against PSG. Both are expected to be out for several weeks, and there’s no chance either feature against Chelsea.
Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia are also out for the cup tie, with both dealing with nagging injuries at the moment.
A pair of centre-backs are in contention to return to the side, however, as Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling have recovered from their injuries and are fit for selection.
Chelsea have had much better luck with injuries, as Danny Drinkwater is the only player who is unavailable for selection. English youngsters Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi missed out in recent weeks, but are candidates to feature on Monday.
Manchester United: Romero, Dalot, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw, Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Lukaku, Rashford, Alexis
Chelsea: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, Willian, Higuain, Hazard
What to look out for
Pressure on Sanchez and Lukaku to perform
With the aforementioned injuries to Lingard and Martial, all eyes will be on a pair of United players who have underperformed so far this season. Romelu Lukaku failed to bring his momentum from the World Cup into the United team, and now finds himself second choice to Marcus Rashford up top. Alexis Sanchez has been hampered by injuries all year, but hasn’t impressed whenever he’s gotten a chance on the field. However, there is hope, as both players were superb in the win against Arsenal in the last round, and there is hope they can rekindle that FA Cup magic against Chelsea. It’s make or break time for Alexis and Lukaku, who are under pressure to prove that they’re are good enough to stay at a club like Manchester United.
Chelsea’s new number 9
One of the most marquee signings of the winter transfer window saw Gonzalo Higuain join Chelsea on loan from Italian powerhouse Juventus. The club were suffering under Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, with neither able to get the job done up top. There is hope Higuain will be the man to answer their attacking problems, as he links back up with old boss Sarri, who got the very best out of him when the pair were together at Napoli. The Argentine did grab a brace against Huddersfield, but was also on the field in the thumpings against Bournemouth and Manchester City. Critics have also doubted him in the big games, but a match-winning performance against United on Monday could show why Chelsea were so adamant on bringing in the striker in January.