It’s a rare enough occurrence for this column to have anything positive to say about the TV schedulers or just about any aspect of football-related administration but fair play to whomever put this together as it has the makings of a mighty fine match with which to conclude the week.
More of the same?
Utd, but more specifically Jose Mourinho, have taken a bit of stick from some quarters as a result of the Louis Van Gaal style of play they employed against Liverpool last Monday. Marouane Fellaini started in midfield and they were physical and muscular throughout so that much was very much in the style of their former manager. Slightly over 30% possession was not but Mourinho, like the Dutch man, is pragmatic to a fault. If he doesn’t want to lose a match, he generally won’t.
The bow requires some more strings
The problem is, though, trying to manufacture a steady supply of wins as to do so often requires opening up a little bit, leaving your team vulnerable, something which Mourinho finds repulsive. Utd haven’t strung back-to-back wins together since September but, following a run of three consecutive defeats last month, they have tightened things up and haven’t lost in six games. If he can get his big name players to up their performance levels, Utd can yet be a threat.
The surprise is that it is surprising
The big problem for them is that Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, seems to have settled on a winning formula. Their previous pair of games has seen the Italian do what he knows best and reorganize his team to accommodate his favoured three man defense. As a central pairing, Gary Cahill and David Luiz were hilariously incompetent but adding Cesar Azpilicueta to the backline has steadied them whilst successfully (thus far) re-inventing Victor Moses as a wingback was a move few could have seen coming.
Fix up/look sharp
It’s fair to say that this column has a bit of a soft spot for Conte. It could be that we’re blinded by the Italian leather on his feet or the sight of an immaculately tailored suit attempting to maintain its structural integrity over the course of the 90 minute Mediterranean marathon it must endure. Most likely it’s those things but it’s also because he is such a clearly intelligent manager who possesses a wild drive to win. The intensity seen on the sidelines is merely a continuance of the intensity behind the scenes during training and planning.
It seemed as if Conte was slightly shaken by events at Chelsea following their losses to Liverpool and then Arsenal, maybe even more so by the gossip flying around about his imminent departure. Whilst that was always unlikely, the club’s owner has form and that awareness, coupled with the stinging losses to two of their biggest rivals, has led to a re-evaluation which sees him going back to what he knows and shaping his team accordingly. Two wins on the hop with no goals conceded and a week in which they haven’t had to play European football, leaves Chelsea in decent knick coming into this tie.
The market has Utd at about 5/2 to win and it’s much the same price for the draw. We can’t see Utd winning this game and Conte and his charges should be crafty enough over time to work their way though Utd to goal. Thinking about it, there’s a decent chance that Fellaini and/or Costa could get sent off which might do crazy things to the swing of the game but it’s hard to legislate for that. So with all that said, we’ll go for a Chelsea win at 5/4 from BetFred.