Manchester United's unbeaten Premier League run looks rather less impressive when you consider that José Mourinho's men have won only four of their last 10 outings. It’s going to be difficult for them to notch another win on Sunday, when they welcome Antonio Conte’s table toppers, Chelsea, to Old Trafford.
The Blues haven’t yet got the title wrapped up, but they remain four points clear of Tottenham Hotspur, who comfortably beat Bournemouth on Saturday. It remains difficult to envisage them slipping up from such an advantageous position. But could Mourinho’s men hand Spurs a lifeline on Easter Sunday?
United have a few injury problems, but none — perhaps with the exception of Juan Mata’s, which looks like ruling him out for the remainder of the season — should cause too much consternation for Mourinho. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are both currently on the treatment table, though remain behind Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly in the centre-back pecking order regardless. As for the doubtful duo of Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney, they shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting lineup — fit or otherwise.
But if United are in a reasonably salubrious state for this late stage of the campaign, it’s nowhere near as healthy as Chelsea’s. The lack of European football has seriously helped Conte keep his players in shape, and he has a fully fit squad to choose from. Not an injury nor a suspension in sight.
Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation has ensured they’re the hipster’s choice du jour, though Conte’s unorthodox tactics have more going for them than mere novelty value. Only Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have scored more goals in the league than the Blues this season; only Spurs and United have conceded fewer. Their shape has offered the perfect balance between attack and defence, and facilitated the rejuvenation of ailing talents.
At the heart of the back three, David Luiz has established himself as a surprisingly solid centre-back; out wide, wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses — formerly of Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic respectively — have proven they’re much more than mid-table makeweights; up top, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have returned to something like their world class best.
However, the true revelation has come in midfield, where N’Golo Kanté, star of Leicester City’s title win, has proven himself to be less one-season wonder and more established Premier League star. He’s capable of doing just about everything in the centre of the park, and we can only hope that Paul Pogba comes to dominate games in the way his compatriot seems able. That battle could well define this game.
The last time we met
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United, FA Cup quarterfinal, 13 March 2017
Mourinho has faced his former club twice since taking charge of United, and neither has gone particularly well. However, last month's FA Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge went considerably better than the Premier League fixture back in October, when the Blues ran riot in a 4-0 win in front of their own supporters. That was actually the last time United lost in the league, but it’s still very fresh in the memory.