It’s been almost 4 months since a scrumptious Alvaro Morata header left the man Chelsea fans now refer to as Judas deflated on the touchline as Manchester United succumbed to only their second league defeat at the time.
Since then, both teams have expetienced seesaw seasons. Morata who scored his 7th goal in 10 EPL games in the game in November has gone on to score just 3 times in his next 11. Plagued by niggling injuries and fatigue the striker has so far failed to deliver on his early season promise. But all will be forgotten if he could replicate his heroics from the first leg of this tie.
Chelsea faithfuls will be hoping they have finally rediscovered their form amidst a very tricky set of fixtures which started on Tuesday against Barcelona and will see them play against both Manchester Clubs, endure a London derby against Crystal Palace before making a trip to the Camp Nou for the return leg against the Catalan giants all before the middle of March. They missed the opportunity to enter the cluster of fixtures in some comfort after they suffered losses to Bournemouth and Watford. Wins in those games would have given them a 3 point cushion over United, but instead they find themselves 3 points behind the Red Devils. The fact that they have won 2 conceded only once in the 3 games after the Watford loss(in a 1-1 draw with Barcelona) will come as a boost to the confidence of the blues, even though these wins came against botyom of the league West Brom and 2nd division Hull City in the FA Cup.
United on the other hand had a torrid time in their last EPL game losing 1-0 to Newcastle as Jose Mourinho’s hoodoo at St. James’ Park, stretching his winless run to 7 games In the league. United followed that up with an FA Cup win over Huddersfield before a drab 0-0 draw in the Champions league away to Sevilla.
They still sit 2nd on the table however, and are the closest to runaway leaders Manchester City who have opened up a 16 point gap at the top of the table. Although United currently lead the chasing pack, they could lose their best of the rest status to Liverpoolikr even Chelesea if they lose on Sunday.
Chelsea will welcome the returning Tiemunie Bakayoko from injiry thatkept the him out of ties against Hull City and Barcelona. They also have fit again Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud to consider for selection on Sunday.They still cannot call on January Signing Ross Barkley who is out of contention with a Hamstring injury.
Manchester United will be without long term absentee Zlatan Ibrahimovic as well as Ander Herrera who was taken off in the draw against Sevilla with a injury. His absence will surely see a return to the starting line up for Paul Pogba who hasn’t started a game since his dismal showing against Newcastle. All eyes will once again be on Romelu Lukaku as he looks to shake off the ‘big game choker’ tag that his 0 goals in 4 matches so far against the other teams in the big 6 has earned him. With 6 goals and 2 assists in his last 10 matches in all competitions, it is as good a time as any to face a top team.
Mourinho vs Conte
Thisfixture has been earmarked by football fans as a must watch since the epic exchange of words between the two managers which finally came to a boil when the ex Chelsea manager made comments about ’clowns on the touchline’ a statement which the incumbent took offense to. Accusations of senile dementia and match fixing were traded back and forth heightening the tensions between both sides and it would be engrossing to see which of the two tacticians will come out on top and if the war of words will translate to a touchline bout.
It might not have an effect on the race for the EPL honors this year as City stil look like they are steam rolling to the title, but it is certainly the headline act for the rest of the top 4. With 4 points separating 2nd place United and 5th place Tottenham, the race for who gets to play with Europe‘s elite next season is heating up, it’s almost as heated as relations between the two managers who will sit in the Old Trafford dugouts on Sunday.