It’s one of the most hotly anticipated matches of the new Premier League season on Sunday, as Jose Mourinho returns to his old stomping ground with his new club.
The Portuguese manager has spent two successful spells at Chelsea, most recently winning the title in 2014/15. However, things turned incredibly sour for him at the Blues last season and he was sacked in December just seven months after lifting the trophy. A very public bust up with club doctor Eva Carniero and a terrible run of form that saw them struggling in the bottom half led to a dramatic fall from grace. After a period out of the game, the self-styled Special One was brought in to bring the glory days back to Manchester United, and while it hasn’t been all plain sailing, there are definite signs that the Red Devils can be competitive again.
After dispensing with Mourinho, Chelsea turned to Guus Hiddink to see them through the rest of the season, before hiring former Italy coach Antonio Conte in the summer. His target was similar to Mourinho’s in that he’s been charged with restoring former glories to a club that failed to even achieve a European place last term. It all adds up to an intriguing game, in a fixture that has never lacked spice over the Premier League years.
The other televised game on Sunday features Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, back on domestic duty after a woeful effort in Barcelona in the Champions League during the week. For all the impact that the new manager has made on the Citizens, the 4-0 defeat served as a reminder of how much more progress will be required to compete at the very top. Southampton are the opponents, fresh themselves from a European defeat at the hands of Inter Milan in the Europa League.
Chelsea v Manchester United
Firstly though, it’s to the game at Stamford Bridge, where Manchester United look good value on the double chance at -133 with Coral.
Mourinho would surely love nothing more than to get one over his former employers, but ever the pragmatist, a more strategic approach is expected. He’s been well known to set his stall out against title rivals in away games, as was evident in the 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Monday night. United stifled Klopp’s expansive Liverpool team, and earned the draw through hard work and endeavour. The point kept them in 7th place with 14, three behind the Reds in 4th, and two behind Chelsea in 5th. After three straight defeats in September to Manchester City, Feyernoord and Watford, the result at Liverpool brought up a run of six without defeat – four wins, two draws.
Chelsea started the season very impressively under Conte, but the recent 2-1 home loss to Liverpool and the 3-0 away defeat at Arsenal, posed plenty of questions. Nothing less than a title challenge is acceptable to the Chelsea hierarchy, especially with no European distractions, but this one won’t be easy. Three of the last four games between the two teams have ended all square, and goals have been thin on the ground. Expect United to set up to be solid and give nothing away, and while Chelsea may huff and puff, one suspects that Mourinho will have the measure of his former players.
Manchester City v Southampton
Claudio Bravo’s high profile mistake at Barcelona has again raised question marks about Pep Guardiola’s treatment of Joe Hart, but the City manager remains unrepentant. He insisted after the game that as long as he is a coach he will always play out from the back via his keeper. It’s been an interesting tactic to watch in the first few games of the Premier League, and they can probably get away with it against lesser sides rather than against a brilliant Barcelona.
Surprisingly though, it’s now four games without a win for Manchester City, after a run which saw them win their first ten games on the trot. Draws with Everton and Celtic as well as defeats to Spurs and Barca, have poured cold water on those fans that were getting carried away with Pep’s instant impact. While they were sauntering to 4-0 and 5-0 wins earlier in the season, it’s clear that the Premier League is no cakewalk.
Southampton have had their own good run of form recently with five wins and two draws from seven games helping them up to 8th in the table. However, that run was brought to an end by Inter Milan on Thursday night, and it’s notable that they’ll have had one day’s less rest than the Manchester City players whose match was 24 hours earlier in midweek. They’ve been beaten on their last six visits to Manchester City, and although they’ve been brilliant defensively of late – only two goals conceded in eight matches – Guardiola will be asking his players for a reaction and they should be good enough to get their noses in front.
Manchester United or Draw
Sunday 23rd October, 16:00 GMT
Manchester City to beat Southampton
Sunday 23rd October, 13:30 GMT