According to a report in today's Times, Louis van Gaal has admitted to Manchester United chiefs that everything's a massive mess and he's no idea how to fix it. But, in an admirable adherence to remarkable stupidity, chief executive Ed Woodward has insisted the Dutchman continue to "battle on," presumably in the hope he pulls off a Christmas miracle. Suffice to say, that's looking unlikely, and anything other than a defeat at home to a resurgent Chelsea on Saturday would come as something of a pleasant surprise.
The Blues have picked up four points from a possible six since Guus Hiddink replaced United manager-elect José Mourinho, and it wouldn't come as any shock if they managed to stage a post-Christmas recovery under a manager they seem to want to play for. They'll also be buoyed by their recent record against United, having not lost to the Reds in over three years. Considering the teams have met eight times since (with Chelsea winning five), that's an impressively poor record.
United will have Bastian Schweinsteiger back in the starting lineup after his three-game ban, though Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo are all out injured. Matteo Darmian and Jesse Lingard will face late fitness tests, but it'd be surprising if van Gaal threw them straight into the team, even if they pass.
Chelsea's big absentee is striker Diego Costa, who misses this match though suspension. Cesc Fàbregas is unavailable with a fever (or maybe a 'fever'), while United legend Radamel Falcao, Eden Hazard and Loïc Rémy all face late fitness tests, potentially leaving the Blues rather short-staffed in attack.
Interim manager Guus Hiddink seems to be hoping that his rosy Dutch cheeks will prove sufficient to turn Chelsea's fortunes, as he's made no attempt to shake things up tactically. He's certainly more of a man management specialist than a strategic innovator, and as a result we can expect the Blues to shape up in 4-2-3-1 similar to that used under Mourinho.
It remains to be seen whether the greater tactical freedom will manifest itself in more proactive football, but one thing's for sure: this Chelsea team can be very dangerous on the counter-attack. United summer target Pedro is likely to start on one flank, with either Eden Hazard or Willian on the other. They're a pacey, industrious trio, and won't need a second invitation to make mincemeat of the United defence.
However, it's certainly not a side without weakness, with right-back Branislav Ivanović having been a big target of the Bridge's boo boys under Mourinho. He's extremely susceptible to pace and skill, and whoever eventually starts out on the left shouldn't be shy of running at him. Their centre-back pairing of Kurt Zouma and Gary Cahill remains questionable, though Nemanja Matić hasn't afforded them quite as much protection as they'd have hoped. United should create chances, though could concede even more.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Thibaut Courtois; César Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanović; Nemanja Matić, John Obi Mikel; Pedro, Oscar, Willian; Loïc Rémy.