Tonight might be the most interesting 6th versus 15th the Premier League has seen, as Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Forget the results last year and forget the individual players for a minute. The main story is the dramatic falls from grace that both teams have endured. In the span of just seven months, the Blues have gone from hoisting the Premier League trophy to just 2 points above the relegation zone, while Manchester United, who looked so solid early on, have slipped to 5th after a bad run of results and after elimination from the Champions League.
For United, all of this has simply heaped more and more pressure on manager Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman was always a bit more respected than loved, with his style of football not necessarily meshing well with the expectations of the supporters. A lot of that was forgiven early in the season when United were grinding out the results.
While the attacking football of United’s past wasn’t on full display, the defensive solidity was there, and United conceded just 10 goals in their first 14 Premier League matches.
Injuries have started to affect their defence, though, and United have shipped 6 in their last 3, scoring just 4, highlighting how important United’s defence has been to this season while also showing that the United attack has lacked bite despite the amounts of possession per match.
All of this has turned up the heat on Van Gaal, with some claiming that a poor result today against Chelsea could prove to be his undoing and send United looking for a new manager before their next match on 2 January.
United’s scenario will look quite familiar to Chelsea supporters, with Jose Mourinho gone after poor results and possible mutiny and Guus Hiddink installed as interim manager until the end of the season.
Chelsea’s problems are also quite similar in that goals have been few and far between, as the legendary Own Goal and Willian’s free kicks have largely been responsible for the scoring. Lack of goals from the front has been a major problem and finding the culprits isn’t that difficult.
Eden Hazard hasn’t scored a goal for Chelsea this season, while Diego Costa has been nowhere near his best, often found wandering around the corner flag so far this season. Costa, however, showed a mini-revival against Watford on Saturday scoring twice in a 2-2 draw, but Hazard’s injury has limited his time recently, and when he was playing, goals seemed in short supply.
A much larger concern for the Blues is their sudden lack of defensive organization. Once more, defensive errors and general calamity reared its head against Watford, with Nemanja Matic’s absurd handball responsible for Watford’s first via a Troy Deeney penalty and with slack marking responsible Watford’s second from Odion Ighalo.
However, a positive is that Ighalo’s goal sent Chelsea behind, but the players showed the correct response and were an Oscar slip away from being in position for a 3-2 victory. Hiddink will have been pleased that the revival was driven by the maligned Hazard and Costa, though he will be disappointed that the latter will miss tonight’s game through suspension after picking up a fifth booking this season.
All of this builds up to a very interesting clash at 5:30 PM this evening. Both sides have shown vulnerability and are suffering from a run of bad results. A win for either team could be a massive boost of confidence for the winning side, though a draw is probably the most likely result.