The Red Devils were beaten 1-0 at the hands of Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Saturday evening. Before the loss at Newcastle, they had enjoyed a revival of sorts in the top flight heading into the festive period, prevailing in five of their previous six games and keeping clean sheets in three on the trot.
On the other hand, the 10-man Blues showed great spirit and unity to overcome Brighton 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. As a result, Mauricio Pochettino’s troops will head to Old Trafford with some confidence.
On that note, let us take a look at the key battles that could define the outcome of this mouthwatering contest.
This season, Raheem Sterling has been Chelsea’s finest player. He has registered five goals and an assist in 14 league games, including strikes against Man City and Newcastle United. Not only has the England international proven himself to be a good finisher in recent years but also capable of setting up his teammates with incisive through balls in the final third.
So, one player that Man United’s defence should try to keep on their radar if they intend to secure a victory in this clash is Sterling, and the task could fall on the shoulders of Diogo Dalot. Operating as a left-back against Newcastle, the Portuguese full-back struggled to cope with the overlapping and underlapping runs of Miguel Almiron and Kieran Tripper. The goal came from his flank, with Trippier squaring Anthony Gordon for the simple tap-in.
So, Dalot will need to be on high alert throughout the game. Knowing the Man United full-back isn’t the best defensively, Sterling will try taking him on every time he gets the ball and make runs in behind the home side’s defence.
From one end of the pitch to another, the potential battle between Alejandro Garnacho and Reece James will be a treat to watch.
Garnacho has been Man United’s most in-form player in recent weeks, scoring spectacular goals against Everton and Galatasaray respectively. However, the Argentinean winger was ineffective at St James’ Park as Newcastle rarely allowed him space and time on the ball to thrive.
Reece James is primed to start at right-back after serving a one-game suspension against Brighton. The Englishman has struggled with injuries again this season, which has directly resulted in underwhelming performances. So, he will have his work cut out against Garnacho, who has been a breath of fresh air for the Red Devils going forward.
Enzo Fernandez was fantastic against Brighton, scoring an important brace in a five-goal fiesta at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Argentinean World Cup winner hasn’t been in the best of forms since the start of the season but his overall display against Brighton should give him a lot of confidence heading into the game at Old Trafford.
In good form of late, Bruno Fernandes—Man United’s creator-in-chief—will be on the lookout for spaces in and around the box to hurt Chelsea. Basically, he is the guy who makes the Red Devils tick. The Portuguese is a clever player and his flair can frustrate Enzo, so the Chelsea midfielder will need to stay in his zone as much as possible and dictate the tempo of play.
But the Argentinean has his own share of tricks and is deceptively quick, silky and inventive on the ball, so this one should be an interesting affair.
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