With Manchester City zooming off into the distance, Chelsea and Manchester United are playing catch-up. Kevin Hatchard expects an intense battle at Stamford Bridge...
"Mourinho simply doesn't take risks in this type of game, and both teams have scored in just one of these clubs' last five Premier League meetings."
Chelsea v Manchester United
Sunday November 05, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Chastened champions losing their grip on Premier League crown
It will doubtless have been a grievous personal blow to Chelsea boss Antonio Conte that his return to Italy in midweek was accompanied by such a wretched collapse from his charges in the capital of Rome. Due to Atletico Madrid's recent incompetence, Chelsea's 3-0 defeat to Roma in the Champions League shouldn't prove costly, but it caused Conte to question his players' hunger. He wants a response, as another man who won the Premier League title in his first season at Chelsea returns to Stamford Bridge.
Conte craves consistency and stability, both of which have been in short supply for Chelsea in recent weeks. The Blues have leaked 11 goals in their last six games in all competitions, and they have lost three of their last seven matches. Chelsea's inconsistency has seen them slip nine points behind the leaders Manchester City, and the Blues are now out to a hefty [28.0] to retain their Premier League title.
Chelsea are boosted by the recent return of N'Golo Kante to the midfield, but defender Cesar Azpilicueta is carrying a knock. It remains to be seen whether Conte will swing the axe following that awful display at Roma. After six games without a goal, Alvaro Morata is in dire need of a boost as he faces Jose Mourinho, who coached him at Real Madrid. The pair are still friends who are in regular contact, and it was thought for a big chunk of the summer that Morata would link up with Mourinho at Old Trafford.
Mourinho needs to break self-imposed shackles against the big hitters
Manchester United won two trophies in Jose Mourinho's first season in charge, and there is little doubt that they have made strides forward this season. However, if they are to chase down Manchester City in the title race, it seems there may have to be a significant shift in attitude when it comes to facing the division's more able sides, especially away from home.
Mourinho hasn't won an away game against one of the division's top six sides for more than two years, a run of ten games without a victory, and United have scored just twice in that sequence. It's also worth noting the Opta stats that show the Red Devils have won on just one of their last 15 trips to Stamford Bridge, and they lost last season's corresponding fixture 4-0.
Last weekend's 1-0 victory over Spurs at Old Trafford was a step in the right direction, but until United can make a big statement away from home against a title rival, there will always be significant doubt that they can mount a genuine push to return to the summit of the English game. Mourinho insists that such criticism is unfair, and that he doesn't get enough credit for being able to negate talented teams in big games, but the pace that Manchester City are setting is lowering the value of eking out a draw at Anfield, the Emirates, the Etihad or Stamford Bridge.
After beating Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, Mourinho could revert to the side that beat Spurs. Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones are likely to be recalled, but the game is likely to come too soon for Paul Pogba.
If there was ever a time for Chelsea to show their true worth, it's now. Their recent Champions League displays have damaged the players' reputations, and it's time to puff their chests out and show why they won the title last season.
United have great quality and are on a high after beating Spurs, but Mourinho's recent record against the big hitters away from home is undeniably poor, and it's difficult to see him doing anything but looking to negate the Chelsea threat.
Chelsea can be backed in the Draw No Bet market at [1.8], so that's the way I'm heading.
Unless Mourinho is ready to catch us all off-balance, he'll adopt the same safety-first approach that he used at Anfield in that goalless draw. Five of United's last six games in all competitions have seen fewer than three goals scored, and Conte may not take too many early risks after that shambles in Rome.
I can see why Under 2.5 Goals is trading at [1.68], but I'm taking a slightly different route and backing No in the Both Teams To Score market at [1.93]. That bet has paid out in six of United's last seven games in all competitions, and four of the last five Premier League meetings between the teams.
Kevin Hatchard 2017-18 Premier League P/L
Points Staked: 16
Points Returned: 18.85
P/L: +2.85 points