Call it Manchester Not-Very-United.
The rumors (“rumours” as they’re called in England) are coming fast and furious now, and the tabloids are in overdrive. While a winning streak earlier in the season might have aided to soothe player-coach relations at Manchester United, a shaky victory over the Magpies of Newcastle has had next to no impact.
It seems every day another athlete is finding himself at odds with manager Jose Mourinho, and it is not like the club is great at keeping secrets.
Marcus Rashford could be the latest morale-casualty. An article in Express UK this week reasons that the 20-year-old attacker is better off with Three Lions, quoting Stuart Pearce to the effect that Old Trafford just isn’t the place for a developing player right now. Maybe he is right.
The Red Devils were a catastrophe against West Ham in the 3-1 loss on September 29th. United only possessed the ball for 51% of the match and took 9 shots. Rashford scored the only tally, but the Hammers had previously taken a 2-nil lead. Paul Pogba started the day in the starting 11 but was eventually replaced, stressing his own current issues with the coaching staff.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri could not be on more of a different wavelength than his embattled counterpart. Not that the workaholic coach is never emotional, or critical of strikers for that matter. But he is using nicer methods to coax the best performances out of a star-studded lineup and prospect-filled reserves through a blitz of English Premier League and international club victories.
The 2018-19 Blues have not lost a Premier League match since their campaign began being victorious 6 times and drawing with West Ham and Liverpool. In fact, the last time the club lost a fixture – any fixture – was on August 1st in a friendly played against Arsenal. It was not an easy victory for the Gunners, either, who prevailed 6-5 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation.
Chelsea’s only potential weak spot simply underscores the strength of the current roster. Eden Hazard is such a dominant power on the attack, Jorginho is so able in the middle, and defenders like Marcos Alonzo are so dynamic that Kepa – the squad’s gifted GK – has not been tested much. It is hard to say whether he is playing well or inadequately, because he mostly punts or passes out from the back, or leaps recreationally at balls that have no chance of hitting the mark.
That narrative might have changed in a triumph over Southampton on October 7th.
Hazard scored in the 1st 45:00 (just imagine that) but in spite of what was to be a lopsided score, it was a physical and wide-open match at times. Saints seldom go down without a rally at St. Mary’s Stadium, and the hosts peppered Kepa with 15 shot attempts, but he kept a clean sheet throughout.
The betting lines for Chelsea-United paint a sharp picture of Goliath vs Grumpy.
The Over/Under total of (2 ½) seems normal enough, but look at the moneyline: (+350) on United and minus-odds for Chelsea at (-143). The last 2 numbers beg the question of just how it is gotten so depressing for the Red Devils.
It is safe to say that United is the most discordant Premier League squad in October, even as it retains an elite roster. By consequence, that means Chelsea has taken on 8 teams that were more consistent and well-prepared and the club has not lost any of those matches.
Might the Blues still be susceptible to the raw talent and individual talent of Pogba, Lukaku, or Three Lions representative Luke Shaw?
One can imagine the Chelsea backline someday getting exposed for a lack of consistency in the reserve ranks. That is true, however, of most influential European clubs. Reserve units are not meant to start as a complete 11 in the FA Cup Final, but to serve as a stew from which the manager can pluck growing talent to employ on the pitch with the starters.
Antonio Rüdiger is a young center-back whom the skipper trusts to play extended minutes, entering the most crucial span of his career at 25. If Jorginho is not on hand to receive a pass out from the back from Alonzo or Rüdiger, there is always the swift N’Golo Kanté, fresh off a gold medal World Cup showing.
While the Red Devils could profit from a wide-open, fun plan of assault against a lesser squad (“just forget it all and go play” et cetera), against Chelsea anything short of methodical implementation of any tactic could cause more problems than it solves.
Neither squad dabbles much in fancy lock-down defensive schemes. But that makes it all the more precarious for Mourinho’s side, which cannot afford to make mistakes such as the own-goal against West Ham or the untimely double-tally allowed to Newcastle in just a 3-minute span. If they have struggled to recover from those gaffes against marginal opponents, just imagine if the Red Devils blunder early at Stamford Bridge.
The O/U of (2 ½) strikes me as the most valuable, mispriced market of the Chelsea-United match.
Kepa is magnificent, but Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, and Rashford can combine to solve him. I can see United scoring a few goals in this match and still losing 4-2.
There just is not enough focus and dedication among the visitors to hold off the Blues for 45 minutes, let alone 90+. It does not mean they cannot still attack when the chance is there.
I like Chelsea on the moneyline and as a proposition bet to lead at half and after full time, and for the total to go over (2.5).
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.