Manchester United vs Chelsea Preview: Two of England's elite face off in a mouthwatering opening week fixture
Photo by Shaun Botterill via Getty Images

Manchester United vs Chelsea Preview: Two of England's elite face off in a mouthwatering opening week fixture

After falling short of expectations last time out, both Manchester United and Chelsea will look to make the perfect start to their respective campaigns on Sunday in a blockbuster affair.

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Adnan Basic

The Premier League has finally returned after three months away, and fans haven’t had to wait long for a must-see marquee contest.

The opening matchweek will come to a close with one of the tastiest matchups of the season, as Chelsea head to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United.

Two of the biggest clubs in the country, the bitter rivals have stumbled a bit in the past few years, but Sunday should still see a thrilling encounter.

Every point will matter in the race for the top four and Champions League qualification, so a good result could be critical for either team ahead of the new campaign. 

Form

It was ultimately a frustrating summer for United, which is a shame considering how well it started. The club quickly announced the signing of Welsh youngster Daniel James from Swansea City, and it would only be a few more weeks until Crystal Palace right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka joined him at Old Trafford. 

Things somewhat fell apart after that, however, the Red Devils were linked with big name after big name, as the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paulo Dybala were all reportedly close to signing. They never came, leaving United with a weak midfield and attack, which only worsened when Romelu Lukaku left on deadline day. 

United were able to acquire Harry Maguire from Leicester City, making him the most expensive defender of all-time in the process. The club have desperately needed a commanding centre-back for years now, and it seems they’ve finally got one in the English international. 

Chelsea were forced to be a lot quieter than usual this past window, as a transfer ban stopped them from making any actual signings. They were able to find some loopholes though, using loan deals to their advantage. 

Christian Pulisic was technically bought last January, but an immediate loan back to Borussia Dortmund meant this summer was the first time he got to play for the Blues. They used a similar tactic to acquire Mateo Kovacic, making his loan deal from Real Madrid a permanent move in the offseason. 

They were dealt a major blow, however, as Eden Hazard was finally allowed to make his dream move to Real Madrid. The Belgian had been Chelsea’s best player for years, but it was time for him to move on to a bigger stage. Now, the Blues are left wondering who from the current roster will be able to step up in his place, and make up for all Hazard did before. 

Last time out

It hasn’t been too long since these two bitter rivals faced off, as they met in late April near the end of last season. 

Taking place at Old Trafford, United were able to take a quick lead through Juan Mata, with the diminutive Spaniard scoring from a few yards out against his former club. The home side would keep the pressure up and create a few more chances, but the Red Devils just couldn’t find that second goal. 

They were made to pay at the end of the first half, as a rare error from David De Gea allowed Chelsea left back Marcos Alonso to slot home from close range. 

That would prove to be the final goal of the game, as the Blues held on for a crucial road point, boosting their top four odds while sinking United in the process. 

Team news

It might be the first weekend of the season, but United are already dealing with a number of injuries in the squad. 

Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are both recovering from long term injuries, so it will be a while until we see either of them take the field. Alexis Sanchez is also unavailable, as he picked up a knock with Chile during this summer's Copa America, and won’t be back for about a month. 

There is some good news, as the club confirmed star midfielder Paul Pogba will be featuring on Sunday. The Frenchman had been dealing with a nagging back injury throughout pre-season, but he’s seemingly been able to recover in time. Maguire will also play a part, as he’s managed to acclimate to his surroundings quick enough after signing for United last week. 

Chelsea are dealing with similar injury problems and will be without a number of key players. The biggest absence will be Antonio Rudiger, as the German suffered a knee injury at the end of last season, and has yet to return to the team. 

The Blues will also be missing a trio of English youngsters. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are both recovering from Achilles tears, while Reece James is not quite yet ready to return after having ankle surgery in the offseason. 

Predicted lineups

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Fred, Matic, Pogba, Lingard, Rashford, Martial

Chelsea: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Zouma, Alonso, Kovacic, Kante, Barkley, Pulisic, Giroud, Willian

What to watch for

Maguire makes his debut

Sunday will be a true trial by fire for Maguire, who will be making his United debut against Chelsea. The former Leicester City man became the most expensive defender in footballing history last week, as the Red Devils signed him for around 80 million pounds. A starter for England and already one of the best in the Premier League, Maguire will immediately improve the United backline, but the pressure will be on to prove he’s worthy of his massive fee. 

It won’t be the easiest start to life for Maguire, as he will go up against a dangerous Chelsea attack. They might have lost their star man when Hazard went to Madrid, but they did manage to replace him with an American wonderkid in Pulisic. He was a big hit in the Bundesliga, and he’ll look to continue his promising growth in England. 

Then there’s the likes of Willian and Pedro, who have plenty of experience in big games. They’ll be allowed more freedom on the pitch in Hazard’s absence, which could help get the most out of both players. 

The Blues are missing a proven striker, as it’s unclear who will start up top. Tammy Abraham impressed the most in pre-season, but it’s unclear if the board have enough faith in him just yet. Michy Batshuayi has been waiting for his chance at Stamford Bridge after doing well on various loans, so he could take the field on Sunday. There’s also Oliver Giroud, who’s won a World Cup and is incredible in the air. 

Whoever it is Chelsea ultimately turn to, Maguire will have to be ready for a dogfight. All eyes will be on the new defender, and he could get his United career off to a perfect start with a dominant performance in his debut. 

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