WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) gives us his take on the big FA Cup quarter-final contest between Chelsea and Manchester United on Monday night.
Chelsea v Manchester United | Monday 19:45 | BBC 1
Jose Mourinho makes his second return to Stamford Bridge as Manchester United manager, hoping to put on a much better display than October’s 4-0 hounding.
The Red Devils have lost just two of their last 31 games in all competitions since that humbling; however, both were 2-1 defeats in cup competitions and this FA Cup quarter-final is going to be a tougher task than any they’ve faced in that spell.
What makes this fixture particularly challenging for the recently crowned EFL Cup champions is the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swedish star received a three game ban in retrospective action for his elbow on Tyrone Mings last time out at Old Trafford.
Ibra the Irreplaceable
United have scored 58 goals since losing at Stamford Bridge, Ibra has been involved in a whopping 28 of those, scoring 20. Their reliance on him this season has been plain for all to see but as the season has developed he’s taken an ever-greater share of the goals and assists.
Chelsea’s gap over Tottenham remains 10 points, with every passing week they tighten their grip on the Premier League trophy. Their record in all competitions now reads W21-D2-L2 in their last 25 matches and they’ll be relishing the chance to humiliate United once again.
The FA Cup this season has had some fantastic non-league and underdog stories but now approaching the semi-finals, we have the strongest final four line-up in years; Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City are already through.
Regardless of who wins this tie between United and Chelsea then, the victor is not a banker to go on and win the competition.
With the league all but wrapped up and no European competition to turn to, Chelsea can afford to go all out for the FA Cup.
The same cannot be said for United who face Rostov just three days after this match in the Europa League – a competition that they are 7/4 favourites to win outright and must attempt to do just that with a top-four place not guaranteed.
Both Mourinho and Antonio Conte have come a long way since the last meeting and the Red Devils defence is notably improved. The Portuguese boss fielded a back four of Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Daly Blind on their last visit but this time round we should expect Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones to take two of those spots.
Deja-Vu For Mou
Whether that defence can deal with the terrific combination of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro though is a different question. The three-pronged attack have scored 40 goals between them in 2016/17 and I think they’ll get plenty of joy again on Monday night.
Eleven of the Blues’ 16 wins in West London this season have come by a margin of two or more goals and that’s the angle I fancy in tonight’s encounter. The 10/11 (Bet365) about a Chelsea win also appeals but I can’t escape the gaze of the 13/5 on Chelsea -1 handicap line at PaddyPower and that’s my best bet.
Zlatan’s absence cannot be underestimated, not only for his goals but also his leadership on the pitch in a game which Manchester United will probably find themselves up against it and lacking in that department.
Chelsea v Manchester United – Chelsea -1 handicap (13/5 PaddyPower)