Monday night's FA Cup quarter-final is the most exciting game of the round, with Jose Mourinho making another return to Stamford Bridge. Michael Cox provides the tactical analysis, while trading expert Alan Thompson provides the betting expertise.
"Managers sometimes rotate their sides for cup competitions, but there’s little suspicion either manager will play a weakened XI here"
Chelsea v Manchester United
Monday 19:45, BBC One
Match Odds: Chelsea [1.95], Man Utd [4.7], The Draw [3.6]
Manchester United's last trip to Stamford Bridge ended in 4-0 league defeat in October, and ended with Jose Mourinho telling Antonio Conte 'not to humiliate him' towards the end of his unhappy return to Chelsea. It was his biggest defeat in English football.
Manchester United are unbeaten in domestic competition since then, however, even if that run hasn't actually improved their sixth-place position, as Chelsea's website was mischievously keen to point out this weekend. Focus has therefore turned to the cup competition, and after United triumphed in the EFL Cup against Southampton two weeks ago, they're aiming for a relatively rare cup double.
Managers sometimes rotate their sides for cup competitions, but there's little suspicion either manager will play a weakened XI here, with the small caveat that Asmir Begovic is likely to continue as Chelsea's cup goalkeeper.
United are, however, without any recognised first-team strikers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended, with Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial all out through injury or illness. Attention, therefore, will be upon how Mourinho formats his side without a proper centre-forward. There's been talk that Henrikh Mkhitaryan could be fielded as a false nine, but a more typically Mourinho move would be to use Marouane Fellaini upfront. The big Belgian has played there before, and would probably move left to exploit Cesar Azpilicueta's lack of height.
Conte's outfield selection has been extremely consistent over the last few months, although recently he's been using Cesc Fabregas in midfield, a more positive option than Nemanja Matic. However, against a strong side that will attempt to get various players between the lines, this feels more like a Matic game, in order to form a solid midfield partnership with N'Golo Kante.
Kante may go head-to-head against his international teammate Paul Pogba, and be charged with disrupting the creative play of the world's most expensive footballer. He may also surge forward and launch quick counter-attacks in behind Pogba, whose lack of tactical discipline has been rightly questioned this season. However, Mourinho will probably make a slight defensive shift and use Michael Carrick as a solid holding player, allowing Ander Herrera to push forward more alongside Pogba.
Juan Mata should drift inside from the right, although Mkhitaryan scored at Rostov on Thursday and could retain his right-sided position if not used upfront. On the opposite flank Martial would have been used to push back Chelsea's right-wing-back Victor Moses, but instead Ashley Young may play more defensively.
Going the other way, Eden Hazard will be Chelsea's most dangerous attacker, and it remains to be seen how United will cope with him - Carrick's solid positioning would be the obvious approach, as Herrera likes to push forward, which may leave Antonio Valencia isolated against Hazard, who has license to drift infield and take up his number 10 positions anyway. Right-sided Pedro Rodriguez opened the scoring in the reverse fixture after 30 seconds and should test the discipline of Marcos Rojo, while Diego Costa will typically battle against United's centre-backs, probably Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling.
United must also be wary of Chelsea's wing-backs. In possession their shape becomes something like a 3-2-5 system, which often inevitably leaves the opposition defence overloaded. Marcos Alonso will try to exploit the fact Mata or Mkhitaryan play narrow from the right. Alonso, with three goals from open play in his last seven games, all when the opposition defence have effectively been dragged to the opposite flank and exposed at the far post, could be a good outside First Goalscorer bet here at over [30.0].
It's also worth remembering, meanwhile, that for the first time ever, a drawn match at this stage will go to extra-time - rather than a replay. There's also the option for managers to use a fourth substitute in the extra-time period, which may or may not influence the game significantly, but will certainly come up in a pub quiz one day.
Alan thinks Chelsea look a good bet here - see below - while I'll back a half-time 0-0 at [2.7], as it seems this game could be tight and tactical, with both managers making defensive shifts in midfield, and United lacking a proper striker.
The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson
With Chelsea sitting 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and no European football congesting the schedule Antonio Conte can afford to name a strong side to face United at Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
By contrast, Jose Mourinho’s men have just returned from a long trip to Russia where they drew 1-1 with Rostov. They will also go into this game without Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is missing the next three games after Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings “jumped into his elbow” in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Chelsea are in exceptional form, with just one defeat and two draws from their last 21 starts in all competitions and the [1.87] currently available on the exchange looks a good price to me. United have already secured a Europa League place with their EFL Cup win but their focus will be on finishing top four where they still have plenty to do, sitting three points behind fourth placed Liverpool,. Alternatively winning this year’s Europa League will secure a Champions League berth. I suspect the FA Cup will be low on their list of priorities for this season.
There is no love lost between the two clubs and when the Red Devils were humiliated on their last trip to the Bridge losing 4-0 in October, Mourinho and Conte had words in the technical area that allegedly spilled into the tunnel.
When United visited in October it was on the back of a Europa League fixture (beat Fenerbahce 4-1 at Old Trafford), the trip to Russia will have done them no favours again in preparing for this and I struggle to see how Chelsea lose this. Even though we have missed the boat a bit - they were trading at evens earlier in the week - I will be backing Chelsea at [1.87]. I think they may well start even shorter. If you are looking for a bigger return for your stake then Chelsea/Chelsea in the Half Time/Full Time market at around [3.0] also appeals.