Both Chelsea and Manchester United earned midweek first-leg draws in the first knockout round of the Champions League, and even though United’s came away from home, 0-0 against Sevilla, and Chelsea’s came at home, 1-1 against Barcelona, the general consensus has been that it’s the Blues who can look upon their efforts with pride and confidence.
But one game does not define the season, especially in a sequence of 5-6 big games, which now includes the FA Cup quarterfinal against Leicester City after the second leg against Barcelona. The draw against Barcelona in the first leg is all well and good, especially since it took a gift for Barca to equalise, but if Chelsea don’t follow that up with good performances in the other two competitions, we could be out of Europe, out of the FA Cup, and out of the top four by the Ides of March (±3 days).
Chelsea will look to take it one match at a time of course, and not just because that’s cliche. It’s the only way to stay concentrated, pay great attention, demonstrate a winning mentality, and finish the season strong.
Date / Time: Sunday, February 25, 2018, 14:05 GMT; 9:05am EST; 7:35pm IST
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Referee: Andre Marriner — Marriner’s back for the second time in just three games; he was also in charge of our 4-0 win over Hull City last Friday in the FA Cup. Eagle Eyes has refereed a match between Blues and Red Devils just once, the 2010 Community Shield, which we lost 3-1.
Forecast: Freezing to the bone despite periods of sunshine.
On TV: Sky Sports (UK); NBCSN, Telemundo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live Extra, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); HotStar (India)
Manchester United team news: Mourinho will be without two key soldiers, Ander “Sir Kicks-A-Lot” Herrera and Marouna “Sir Heads-A-Lot” Fellaini. (As well as less impactful absences for Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, and Daley Blind.)
Does that mean José will look to play football? He did talk down the personal feud with Conte, just like Conte did. Still, probably not. That’s not really his style, especially in big games. Then again, after laboring to the aforementioned 0-0 draw at Sevilla, which needed a couple David De Gea specials to stay scoreless, that may be the smart and practical choice as well for The Pragmatic One.
United started 2018 with five straight wins in all competitions, but have just two in their last five matches. Still, thanks to Chelsea’s own foibles, they remain second in the league, two points ahead of Liverpool, three points ahead of Chelsea, and four points ahead of Spurs.
That race is far from over and this match will be one of the more crucial ones in it.
View from the enemy: The Busby Babe
Chelsea team news: Ross Barkley is back in light training, but his hamstring issue remains. Bakayoko and David Luiz remain out as well with unconfirmed injuries.
Everyone from the head coach on down to all the players and probably the kit men, too, are saying the same things about confidence and making a good fist of things and so on. But Chelsea haven’t won at Old Trafford since almost five years ago, when Juan Mata (now one of the bad guys) scored a late winner, Rafael got sent off, and David Luiz smiled a big smile.
Previously: The aforementioned 1-0 from the second half of the 2012-13 season, which incidentally matches the score from this season’s first meeting at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea haven’t done a double over United since Ancelotti’s title-winning season in 2009-10.