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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Chelsea

A spot in the FA Cup final is on the line

Manchester United v Chelsea - FA Cup: Semi Final Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

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

(1) It’s been a busy few weeks for Manchester United — and it showed against Crystal Palace on Thursday. The Reds made a very leggy start, looking short of both fitness and energy. The toll of so many recent games — and relatively few lineup changes — was obvious. Nevertheless, United pushed through the fatigue and scored on either side of halftime for a 2-0 win. That result keeps them in fifth, just one point behind Chelsea and even on points with Leicester City.

(2) While Mason Greenwood surprisingly missed no time with his ankle knock, Manchester United’s top two left-backs were both sidelined against Crystal Palace. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who last appeared for the Reds over three years ago, and the 22-year-old more than held his own. Not exactly a show of faith in Diogo Dalot, though?

(3) Big question: How much rotation on Sunday? Solskjaer has rotated quite a bit in the FA Cup up to this point, but against much lesser opposition than Chelsea. Does Odion Ighalo come in for Anthony Martial? Juan Mata or Daniel James for Greenwood? Fred for Paul Pogba? Sergio Romero for David De Gea? These are tough choices for the Manchester United boss. Qualifying for next season’s Champions League is the priority, but adding another FA Cup to the club’s haul is important, too.

(4) Frank Lampard’s first season in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat has seen its share of ups and downs. Still, it could yet end in silverware and Champions League qualification. The Blues sit third in the Premier League table, in control of their European destiny — but with two brutal fixtures left on their league schedule. After Sunday’s match at Wembley, Chelsea travel to Anfield before finishing out the season at home to Wolves. No easy points there.

(5) On Tuesday, Chelsea held serve with a 1-0 win over Norwich. Shortly before the break, Christian Pulisic smartly crossed the ball to Olivier Giroud, who headed the Blues into the lead. The scoreline hardly impresses, but Chelsea did completely dominate the match — outshooting Norwich 21-2.

(6) Chelsea will enter this weekend’s cup tie with a decided rest advantage. As mentioned above, the Blues last played on Tuesday, whereas Manchester United traveled to Crystal Palace on Thursday. At a time when all clubs are inundated with matches, a 48-hour difference in rest and recovery could make a big difference.

(7) Solskjaer on the rest disparity:

We’ll be alright [for Chelsea]. It is what it is and these boys can recover. An occasion, the semifinal at Wembley, will give anyone energy.

(8) Chelsea’s defense is an odd story. Despite ranking near the top of the Premier League in interceptions and second-best at shots allowed per game (8.5), they’ve conceded the most goals of any club in the top half of the Premier League. Kepa Arrizabalaga is part of the problem, as Chelsea sit bottom (by a lot) in saves. No surprise, then, that the club has been linked with Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak and Trabzonspor’s Ugurcan Cakir. Kepa’s days between the sticks at the Bridge appear to be numbered.

(9) Against Norwich, Lampard turned to Kurt Zouma and Antonio Rudiger at center back and was rewarded with a clean sheet. In fact, in the seven times that Zouma and Rudiger partnered at the center of defense this season, Chelsea have only allowed three goals and recorded four straight clean sheets. Those have been in short supply at Chelsea in 2019/20, so expect Lampard to keep this partnership intact on Sunday.

(10) N’Golo Kante Watch: The 29-year-old injured his hamstring against Watford on July 4 and has missed the last three matches. On Friday, Lampard revealed that Kante will NOT be back for the club’s trip to Wembley. That’s a huge loss for the Blues, who don’t really have any comparable replacements to tangle with Bruno Fernandes in midfield.

(11) This season, Manchester United have had Chelsea’s number. It all started on opening day when the Reds thrashed their visitors 4-0 at Old Trafford. Then, in October, United knocked Chelsea out of the League Cup with a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge. Back at the Bridge in February, United again won 2-0 in league play. In fact — and hopefully this isn’t a bad omen — Chelsea have not defeated Manchester United since the 2018 FA Cup final.