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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Chelsea

The Reds could jump into the top half of the table with a win this weekend

Manchester United v Chelsea - FA Cup: Semi Final Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:

(1) What a difference a week makes. Manchester United spent the international break licking their wounds from the Tottenham Hotspur drubbing with pressure mounting on both players and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But the Reds pulled together and defeated Newcastle and Paris Saint-Germain in impressive fashion to silence the doubters — at least for the time being. United are still stuck in the bottom half of the Premier League table, but could jump ahead of Chelsea with a win on Saturday.

(2) Manchester United’s beleaguered defense, so often the villain this season, coped tremendously with PSG’s much-vaunted front three. In large part, that was down to Solskjaer’s decision to play with three center backs, drafting in Axel Tuanzebe to play alongside Victor Lindelöf and Luke Shaw. The big question for Saturday is whether or not the United boss will stick with this new formation or revert back to his traditional 4-2-3-1.

(3) Solskjaer on Tuanzebe’s performance in Paris:

To see Axel play as he has done — I think his last game was maybe Colchester — it’s an unbelievable performance by him. He's only trained for a couple of weeks and he’s absolutely spot on. Axel’s a tremendous defender, a great leader. He’s come through the academy and we’ve known for years that he's going to be a top player for us. He’s got the character and the attitude that a Man United player should have.

(4) With Anthony Martial suspended and Edinson Cavani still short of fitness, the in-form Marcus Rashford seems the obvious choice to lead the line. Mason Greenwood, in the doghouse for tardiness and apparently carrying a minor knock, could also make his return on the right after two matches out of the squad.

(5) Manchester United pipped Chelsea to third in Frank Lampard’s first season in charge of the London club. But, unlike the Reds, Chelsea made strong, early moves in the summer transfer market that have the Stamford Bridge faithful dreaming of a higher finish in 2020/21. Of course, part of Roman Abramovich’s largesse comes from Chelsea no longer being hamstrung by a transfer ban. The Blues signed Timo Werner (£47 million), Kai Havertz (£72 million), and Hakim Ziyech (£33 million) to revamp an attack that was already pretty formidable.

(6) Lampard did not neglect his much-maligned defense, either. Thiago Silva joined from Paris Saint-Germain and, while the 36-year-old center back probably can’t play every week, his calming presence has noticeably settled down the Chelsea backline. To point, the Blues have kept three clean sheets in Thiago’s four matches. They also signed Ben Chilwell from Leicester City and he’s been superb on the left. The biggest problem, though, remains Kurt Zouma. Powerful in the air, but hopeless with the ball at his feet, Zouma should be pressed at every opportunity by Manchester United this weekend.

(7) Before the Sevilla match in midweek, Lampard attempted to defend his porous backline:

In terms of the goals conceded, I am aware of the stats. The other stat is that, since we have been here, we have conceded the second least shots in the Premier League behind Man City, so sometimes it helps you to narrow down some of the issues. And the issues are that we don’t concede too many shots on goal, but when we do, we concede goals.

(8) That’s a rather pointed remark aimed at one Kepa Arrizabalaga. The £70+ million goalkeeper has been an utter disaster between the sticks for Chelsea. Kepa ranked rock bottom in the Premier League last season in save percentage (54.5%), so the club demoted him this summer with the signing of Edouard Mendy. So far, the French keeper has been a huge improvement.

(9) Chelsea’s last two matches — both draws, yet very different ones — show that their midfield and attack remain a work in progress. In the 3-3 thriller against Southampton, the Chelsea frontline purred as both Timo Werner and Kai Havertz opened their Premier League accounts. (After that performance, Werner will haunt the nightmares of Saints defender Jan Bednarek for years to come.) On the flip side, though, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho struggled to support the defense and Southampton rallied for the shock draw.

(10) Then, in their 0-0 Champions League opener, the midfield duo did much better to keep Sevilla off the scoreboard. Some odd choices in attack, though — like playing Christian Pulisic out of position on the right — robbed the Blues of any fluency going forward.

(11) Frank Lampard’s first season in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat presents something of a Rorschach test. A Champions League place — achieved under a transfer ban, no less — plus the successful integration of academy talent like Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, and Reece James deserves plaudits; less so for the inconsistent results and questionable tactics (particularly on defending set pieces and counterattacks). Of biggest concern for Chelsea supporters, Lampard’s Derby County teams similarly struggled when up against opposition content to sit deep and strike on the counter. After a summer of big spending, skirting by with another fourth-place finish might not be enough anymore.