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Opposition scout report: Chelsea vs. Manchester United

How can United beat the champions-elect?

Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Manchester United take on the Premier League champions-elect Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It's ultimately a meaningless game in the non-existent title race, though it certainly is a chance for Louis van Gaal's side to fire a warning shot for next season.

It also should be a rather tougher test of United's resurgence than the one they faced at home to Manchester City last weekend. José Mourinho is a wily old fox, and though his sides have been criticised for a lack of attacking invention, his teams counter-attack as well as anyone else's. United will have to avoid leaving space in behind at all costs. Against the likes of Eden Hazard, you're not usually given a second chance.

Team news

Manchester United are likely to be unchanged. Jonny Evans continues to miss out through suspension, while Michael Carrick should be available despite limping off late against City last weekend. Luke Shaw and Robin van Persie will probably have to settle for spots on the bench.

UPDATE: Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.

Chelsea's only definite absentee is Diego Costa, who will either be replaced by Loïc Rémy or Didier Drogba. Rémy will, however, have to recover from a calf injury if he's to play.


Chelsea have invariably lined up in José Mourinho's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation this season; a shape the Portuguese tactician no doubt favours as much for its defensive attributes as its attacking ones. The presence of an attacking midfielder high up the field allows the Blues to press high up the field; particularly at Stamford Bridge the old Mourinho stereotype of packing men behind the ball is an inaccurate one. United will have to be much better in possession early on -- and less reliant on Michael Carrick -- than they were against Manchester City last week.

However, knowing when, how and who to press is perhaps the most difficult thing for a manager to coach. It's no surprise that it's a common feature of some of the best teams the sport has ever seen. Chelsea's pressure certainly isn't perfect, and that means there are weaknesses United can look to exploit.

Just as Manchester City's pressing often left their deepest midfielder Fernandinho stranded, so Chelsea's Nemanja Matić can sometimes be isolated with direct passes through the middle. His partner in the deep midfield duo -- in this game likely to be Ramires -- usually plays slightly higher up the field, leaving space either side of his teammate. That can leave options open for a direct pass into the striker, or balls either side of the Serbian -- potentially to Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini or Ander Hererra.

United will also no doubt look to target Chelsea's right, with full-back Branislav Ivanović often plays so high up as to be a winger. That's down to their narrowness down that flank in the offensive phase -- nominal right winger Willian loves to try and find pockets of space infield, and will look to combine with Cesc Fàbregas in order to get around United's deepest midfielder, Carrick.

However, Chelsea's most dangerous attacking player is undoubtedly Eden Hazard. The Belgian's pace and close control makes him a formidable opponent for any defender, and a potent threat on the counter-attack. It's just as well Antonio Valencia seems to have developed into a fine defender -- even if his attacking still leaves rather a lot to be desired.

Probable lineups