Sadly, there aren’t a lot of blockbuster Premier League matches this weekend. On the bright side, we have plenty of FA Cup action to look forward. Without a doubt, the most tantalizing of these matchups is Manchester United’s trip to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The last time the Red Devils took the pitch at Jose Mourinho’s old stomping ground, they were promptly smashed 4-0. Can they reverse the luck, and find a way to advance into the semi-final?
Starting off with United, the Red Devils are coming off of a casual midweek trip to Russia for the Europa League. On this trip, Mourinho’s men battled for a 1-1 draw against Rostov. Luckily, they’ll have four days to rest and recover from the trip. Last season, Manchester City faced Chelsea in the Round of 16 and fielded a less than full-strength 11. They were promptly smashed 5-1. To prevent history from repeating itself, Mourinho has told reporters that he will be fielding his best possible line-up. With that being said, the Special One still has to think about preserving some of his players for the return leg of the Europa League just three days after Monday’s fixture.
Hopefully, Mourinho will still give Henrikh Mkhitaryan a chance to impress in the starting lineup. When these two sides faced off in October, the Armenian magician was injured/in the middle of his exodus from the squad. Since “Mkhi” returned to the squad, he has been arguably United’s best player besides maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In his last seven games, he has four goals and two assists, and that doesn’t even take into account how much influence he has throughout the match. I think that he can be a real difference maker on Monday, and hopefully he can lead United into the next round.
Now to talk about Chelsea. Honestly, this is pretty much the only competition that they have to worry about for the rest of the season. They are in possession of a 10-point stranglehold lead on the top spot in the Premier League. They don’t have to worry about any European competition because their nightmare season last year prevented them from qualifying for any competition. While Man U is coming off of only four days of rest, Chelsea will have a full week to prepare for the matchup. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where this advantage doesn’t play a factor in the match.
What Antonio Conte has managed to accomplish this season at Chelsea is nothing short of amazing. The Italian’s prudent transfer choices (i.e. N’Golo Kante) and tactical awareness have helped revitalized Stamford Bridge, and unfortunately, for every other team in the league, it’s not looking like they’re going to be slowing down anytime soon. With all of the momentum that the Blues have going into this matchup, it’s hard to call them anything but the favorites. The form of Eden Hazard in attack, mixed with the nearly unbeatable defensive front standing in front of Thibault Courtois, make them the most intimidating force in England at the moment. Will it be business as usual against United, or will we finally see the Chelsea train derail a little bit?
As much as I want to say that United will steamroll past Chelsea on their way to a repeat FA Cup title run, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. Chelsea have so much talent, and form on their side, and United are in the middle of a cluttered fixture schedule. Even with that being said, I don’t think I could ever pick Chelsea to beat the Red Devils and still call myself a United fan. Final score: Chelsea 0-1 United