Manchester United Host Chelsea In Battle of Uncertain Defences

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Manchester United Chelsea
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Harry Maguire of Manchester United looks around the Aon Training Complex after signing for the club at Aon Training Complex on August 04, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Manchester United welcome Chelsea to Old Trafford for the clubs’ opening fixture of the 2019/20 season on Sunday. United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought in three players in the summer while selling the club’s number nine Romelu Lukaku. Frank Lampard, on the other hand, must start life in in the deep end at Chelsea with the club in the middle of a transfer ban and unable to sign any new players until next summer.

Manchester United vs Chelsea: Preview

Preseason

The Red Devils enjoyed arguably their best preseason since the Sir Alex Ferguson era with almost every player available for selection. Though off-field protests against the Glazer family have continued throughout the summer, it proved little distraction for the players on the pitch. United played arguably their slickest football since Solskjaer’s first few weeks in the job. For once, they looked like a team with a plan. United scored 12 goals in their six friendlies, conceding only three goals.

Perhaps worryingly for their fans, Chelsea conceded 10 goals in their six friendlies. The news on the defensive front doesn’t get much better with Antonio Rudiger and Reece James unavailable due to injury while N’Golo Kante will be touch-and-go, according to manager Frank Lampard. The match will also come too soon for Chelsea’s new no.10, Willian, as well as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi. The club did notch a notable win over Barcelona before coming out victorious in goal-fests against Reading and Salzburg.

Transfers

Manchester United addressed their Achilles heel by making Harry Maguire the world’s most expensive defender and Aaron Wan-Bissaka the most expensive Englishman not to be capped by the senior team. Lightening quick Welsh winger Daniel James was Ole Solskjaer’s first signing in June, joining from Championship outfit Swansea.

Romelu Lukaku found himself inexplicably frozen out during preseason and left for Inter Milan on the English deadline day. United managed to recoup almost all of the £80 million they paid Everton for the Belgian two years ago.

New manager Frank Lampard couldn’t stamp his authority on the squad, at least in terms of transfers, over the summer. With Chelsea’s transfer ban handicapping preparations, the club legend will have it tough in his early days and deserve to be judged leniently until he has brought in his own players.

Chelsea only added Christian Pulisic to their squad, squeezing the transfer in before the ban took effect. The American forward has big shoes to fill with Eden Hazard leaving for Real Madrid. Hazard’s departure has definitely hurt the club even more when combined with the transfer ban. However, Chelsea has an abundance of young talent among their ranks and this could be the best time for some to breakthrough.

To add insult to injuries, experienced defender David Luiz decided to jump ship to Arsenal on deadline day. This was the last thing the Blues needed ahead of the visit to Old Trafford with Rudiger’s injury. The club will now have to rely on either Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen. Zouma hasn’t played competitively for Chelsea since February 2016 while Christensen only featured in eight League games last season.

Strengths and Weaknesses

With the sale of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez still ‘weeks’ behind ‘the boys’, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United will have to rely on Marcus Rashford to lead the line on Sunday. Anthony Martial is expected to start with him and new signing Dan James could follow-up on an impressive preseason with his Premier League debut.

For Chelsea, it will be interesting to see whether Olivier Giroud gets the nod to lead the line or youngster Tammy Abraham. Abraham enjoyed a fruitful loan spell at Aston Villa last season, helping them to promotion. But Olivier Giroud’s experience and goal-scoring pedigree speaks for itself.

In midfield for the Blues, Ross Barkley deserves to start after an impressive preseason. New signing Pulisic is almost a certainty to start after grabbing his first couple of goals against Salzburg. Pedro is a candidate to operate on the opposite flank with Kovacic and Jorginho holding the centre.

United’s Paul Pogba had to rest against AC Milan in their final friendly as a precaution. Solskjaer has said that the World Cup winner is likely to start on Sunday. Alongside him may be former Chelsea man Nemanja Matic and the ever-improving Scott McTominay. The midfield will not decide where the match will be won or lost.

Two Uncertain Defences

United have undoubtedly reinforced their defence with the additions of Wan-Bissaka and Maguire. On paper, the pairing of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire seems extremely calm and solid. It will be interesting to see how the two play alongside each other for the first time. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has had a very impressive preseason while Luke Shaw, on his day, can be a reliable left-back. Barring an inexplicable selection of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young in defence on Sunday, United’s defence looks mainly assured.

For Lampard, the difficult decision will be whether to go with Emerson or Marcos Alonso at left-back while trusting Zouma and Christensen to do a job in the centre. Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the most reliable players in the league. Both teams possess a fast and furious forward line. The outcome of the match should come down to which side can keep their composure and pull through. It’s a new defence for United while it’s an enforced one for Chelsea.

The defences will be key at Old Trafford on Sunday.

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