It is the wrong game at the wrong stage of the tournament for Chelsea and Manchester United to meet. It is supposed to be a big game and it has always been like that for almost two decades. It is a game that both teams can afford loose, but Manchester United must win. Why?
It is about the manager!?
Jose Mourinho is an exceptional manager with a proven record, there is no question about that. You can call him “Mr. Success”, as wherever he managed since 2002 he won titles. His critics would say that it is not that hard to win trophies when a manager has always been given as much money as he needed to strengthen his squad. They’d say that Mourinho has always bought the best players available on the transfer market. That’s true. Successful, gifted managers always have more money to spend and always manage the biggest clubs. The best players always want to play for them.
Jose’s biggest challange!?
Managing Manchester United would prove to be the biggest challenge in Jose Mourinho’s career. He took on a club in a landslide, a team that had lost its playing style and stopped winning as it did before. Mr. Mourinho needed to fix that in a short period of time. Unlike other managers in other clubs he just did not have time to waste. Why? Because fans, club owners and the press judge him by the standards he set himself in his previous clubs, by Jose Mourinho’s standards.
He has done a very good job in the back four and the result is that Red Devils have conceded only 22 goals this season. Meanwhile, four of them have been scored by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge back in October when United were beaten 4-0 by the Blues. Even with those four goals on their account Man United still has the third best defense in the Premier League. Only Chelsea, whom they play in the FA Cup Quarter-final and Tottenham, respectively first and second in the league, conceded less goals in the league (each of them 20).
So no one should be surprised if Manchester United manages to win the cup clash at Stamford Bridge. This is something that Chelsea’s coach Antonio Conte knows very well. He has demonstrated that he is confident that Chelsea would win, but warned that his players need to prove it on the pitch:
“In October, before the game, I was sure of facing a great team. It’s the same now. Manchester United have, together with Manchester City, the best squad in the league. We have a good identity. We are showing good football, but for sure it will be a really tough game against a good team. I hope to be favourites, but to show this on the pitch, not only in the words. The facts are on the pitch. We must talk during the game on the pitch, not before. I prefer to focus on the game, and my players to speak with facts.”
Jose Mourinho is obviously not very happy that this version of Man United should go play at Stamford Bridge on Monday night. This was very clear in his pre-match commentary:
“We cannot go with Nicky Butt’s team (under-23 Man United team, managed by Butt). Manchester United is too big. Manchester United is the winner of the competition. It is not Chelsea’s fault that we were given this Monday match, so we have to make changes for sure… but we cannot go to Stamford Bridge with a Nicky Butt team.”
One of those games that must be won!?
It is one of those games that the managers of the big clubs hate to see in their schedule. You must win it. However, If you win it, it doesn’t bring you a trophy, it just brings you to the next stage of the tournament. If you loose it, it is a real loss. First, because it is against a big rival and fans hate loosing such games. Second, because no manager of an English club is supposed to depreciate the FA Cup. It is a fine tradition in the English football world. Fans love it, clubs honor it and managers are happy to win it.
Chelsea looks like they’d lift the Premier League at the end of the season, in their first year under Antonio Conte. A loss in FA Cup’s quarter-final would not hurt them a lot. Should they win, they still have to play three more games to win the tournament. Today they play against a team they have beaten badly few months ago, however. It is also a game against a team coached by their ex manager and an idol Jose Mourinho. It would be a pleasant win. Finally, it is a game against Manchester United, a team so successful within the last 25 years, that everyone likes to win against them.
For Manchester United it is nothing less than a “must win game”. The Red Devils (49 points, 6th in the table) are in battle to finish in the Top 4. They have played 2 games less than the fourth placed Liverpool (55 points) and if they win them, they’ll be in a good position to qualify for the Champions League (CL).
Another opportunity to win a Champions League place is to win the UEFA Europa League, something that United could do. On March 16, the Red Devils play at home against the Russian club FC Rostov and should they win, they’d reach the last 16 in the tournament. MUFC needs to play 7 games before they reach the UEFA Europa League final. Those are 7 Thursdays, followed by domestic games in the Premier League. It is not an easy schedule, but if there is an English team that knows how to win many games in a row, it is the glorious Man United.
The Red Devil’s fans would choose to qualify for the CL by winning the Europa League, rather than finishing 3rd or 4th in the Premier League. It was something that their bitter rivals Liverpool almost did last year when they reached the Europe League final, just to loose it against FC Sevilla. Manchester United has become the Premier League’s heavyweight within the last 2 decades, that’s true. For them, it is not just about winning games. It is about winning trophies, this is what fans who like singing “Glory, Glory Man United” used to experience.
Winning UEFA Europe League would be a significant achievement for United as it would bring another big trophy to Old Trafford. At the same time winning the FA Cup would be a good compensation for missing out on the Premier League. So we’d expect Man United players to go and fight hard against Chelsea.
Both teams are expected to bring their best players on the pitch. United will be without suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which is a good chance for Marcus Ashford to play upfront with Martial, Pogba and Mkhitaryan behind him.
Chelsea is expected to play a strong side with Pedro, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa in attack.
It is going to be one of those games that both Chelsea and Man United can afford to loose, but one that either team likes to win.