There are few fixtures on the Premier League calendar quite as significant as Chelsea vs Manchester United. No club has won more top flight titles than these two during the Premier League era and although both have endured inconsistent spells in recent years, they’re still very much at the forefront of the English game.
Throw in Jose Mourinho subplots, Chelsea’s worrying form and concerns over Antonio Conte’s future and Sunday’s clash at Stamford Bridge feels like a particularly pivotal one for both teams.
But what does history tell us, what impact could the referee have on the match and what are the likeliest starting XIs? Here’s everything you need to know before kickoff…
Surprisingly considering Chelsea didn’t win their first Premier League title until 2005, they’ve always held their own against United. In fact, they lost just seven times from the 22 encounters before Mourinho’s arrival and the Red Devils will have to do a first since 2012 to win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
That, however, doesn’t mean a Chelsea win is the likeliest result. Their win-rate against United in west London stands at just 44%, meaning United have come away with at least one point per two visits to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have also lost their cool more times than the Red Devils down the years with five red cards – two of which came in the same game during United’s last win at Stamford Bridge en route to Sir Alex Ferguson’s ultimate title.
Anthony Taylor is nothing if not a disciplinarian, which is bad news for two sides who have committed the joint fourth-most fouls in the Premier League this season and the viewers watching at home.
Indeed, Sunday’s game looks set to be an incredibly cagey affair between two sides who will set up not to lose, so Taylor’s strict style – ranking highly for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and yellow cards per game this season – suggests it will be even more stop-start than Mourinho and Conte have planned.
Certainly don’t discount the prospect of a penalty – no referee has awarded more per match this season – and Taylor’s exceptionally low home win percentage gives United a positive to take into the game.
Chelsea’s injury list has certainly cleared up in comparison to recent weeks but there are still two crucially important players missing that severely affect their chances on Sunday.
Conte’s boys just aren’t the same side defensively without N’Golo Kante – he’s a serious doubt for the weekend – while the problems caused by Victor Moses’ absence have probably slipped a little under the radar. Perhaps the good news considering they’ve conceded 13 times in their last seven games, however, is that Conte can field the back three that was so imperious last season.
Rather than a case of personnel though, it’s more a question of whether Conte’s regular starters can raise their games.
It’s actually quite impressive Manchester United have maintained their status as Manchester City’s closest rivals in the title race without arguably their most important player in Paul Pogba.
He’ll miss out this weekend once again, while Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini’s injuries continue to limit Jose Mourinho’s options in the engine room.
Perhaps the most significant point of contention, though, is which formation the United boss decides to use. 3-5-2 worked to great effect last weekend in cancelling out Tottenham’s 3-4-3 so Mourinho may opt to stick with it to counteract Chelsea’s likewise setup, rather than revert back to his more customary 4-2-3-1 system.