Chelsea, fresh off a solid victory “away” to Atletico Madrid, continue a horror run of fixtures with Manchester United. The Red Devils surged to find themselves in second but if anything is true this season it is that nothing is a guarantee. This is a top four six pointer. What things should fans look out for?
1. Can Chelsea adapt from the Atletico Madrid match?
The Blues are just dipping their toes into a crucial run of fixtures over the next few weeks, starting with the win “at” Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. Despite the uninspiring score line, it was undoubtedly Chelsea’s best performance under Thomas Tuchel. The momentum of such an excellent performance should carry some weight headed into the showdown against Manchester United, but that doesn’t mean the match should follow the same script.
If Chelsea sets out to dominate possession and press high up the field like they did against Atletico, Manchester United will have a field day running into open space behind Chelsea’s back line. Against a mildly overweight Luis Suarez, there wasn’t any real cause for concern of the same thing happening against Atletico, but the Marcus Rashfords and Anthony Martials of the world could prove far more problematic to deal with should they be allowed to run into free space.
At the other end of the pitch, the patient passing and deliberate interplay that Chelsea relied on in Madrid (read: Bucharest) won’t fit the bill either on Sunday. Chelsea’s best moments in attack came when they were able to take advantage of the confusion and lack of experience of Atletico’s wingbacks, Marcos Llorente and Thomas Lemar. Though the back five wasn’t entirely new to Atletico, it was clear that there were some soft spots in a defensive structure that’s known for being airtight. With United, however, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. From right to left, it will almost certainly be Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw.
It’s not a perfect bunch, but they’ve played together a lot and know their roles well enough. Atletico was a tough nut to crack, to be sure, but United will pose a different challenge due to their familiarity with each other and with Chelsea’s attackers, while also holding the ability to break on a brutally efficient counter at any moment.
All of this is to say that Chelsea needs to bring the confidence they gained from the Atletico win while leaving the game plan itself behind. Manchester United are by no means a buzz saw at the moment, but the same high-possession high-pressing strategy that worked in Madr…ahem, Bucharest… will almost certainly play right into United’s hands.