Three games on Sunday’s English Premier League schedule and while this might not have the most significant implications in terms of the overall standings it is likely the most competitive matchup. For anyone that follows soccer at all the rivalry between Chelsea and Manchester United needs no explanation.
For those new to European football–this is Red Sox/Yankees, Canadiens/Maple Leafs or Celtics/Lakers. Two of the most successful clubs in the history of England’s professional soccer going at it. From a historical perspective, this might not be Manchester United’s most hated or longest running rival. The longest running is certainly Manchester City but it’s hard to top a rivalry that began in 1881 in the longevity department. From a competitive standpoint, it might be Liverpool–Manchester United has won 20 titles in top level English football while Liverpool has 13. Arsenal is also on the list–the Gunners have been very competitive in the Premier League in recent years and the two sides are neck and neck in FA Cup success. Arsenal: 20 FA Cup finals appearances, 13 wins, 7 runner up. Manchester United: 20 FA Cup finals appearances, 12 wins, 8 runner up.
Manchester United and Chelsea have been rivals for only a couple of decades–a brief period of time in the context of English football. In that short time, however, the rivalry has become very intense. It heated up to a new level during the early 2000s when Man U and Chelsea seemed to trade off winning the English Premier League championship every year. That’s a slight exaggeration but not by much–between 1999 and 2017 one of the two principals in today’s game won the Championship 14 times. (Arsenal won twice, Manchester City twice and Leicester City once). There was also the huge contrast in styles during Jose Mourinho’s run as Chelsea manager–he was such a perfect foil for the more avuncular Sir Alex Ferguson. For those of you scoring at home, Man U and Chelsea have played 150 times. Man U won 60 of those games, Chelsea 44 with 46 draws. At Old Trafford, Man U’s record against Chelsea is 30-26-19.
This season, both teams are fighting not for a Premier League title but to finish in the top 4. With two games remaining after this contest Chelsea is in fourth place with 67 points, Manchester United in sixth place with 64 points. Also in the conversation are third place Tottenham Hotspur (70 points) and fifth place Arsenal (66 points). As is often the case, there are plenty of subplots in addition to the obvious storylines dictated by the EPL table. One of the most compelling involves Man U manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Solskjaer came on as interim manager following the dismissal of the aforementioned Jose Mourinho (yes, he eventually took over the reins at Old Trafford) in December. After a brilliant run in which the team won 8 of 8 he was signed on as Mourinho’s permanent replacement. Since then, however, the team has lost 7 of 9 and there are some claiming that he’s not right for the job. Throwing fuel on the fire was former Manchester United captain Roy Keane–the acerbic Irishman is known for speaking his mind and this week had this incendiary comment about the team’s current roster:
“These are the same players who threw (former boss Jose) Mourinho under the bus and they will do exactly the same to Ole.”
Things are a bit more settled at Chelsea where longtime Serie A manager Maurizio Sarri appears to be ‘the man’ for the time being. His team’s primary goal here will be to solidify their grasp on a top 4 spot after squandering a golden opportunity at home last time out as they could salvage only a draw against relegation candidate Burnley at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has only 1 loss in their last seven games in all competitions but in the eyes of their supporters the Burnley draw is a de facto loss. They’ve struggled away from home all season with a 9-1-7 record and 23 goals against 26 conceded. They’ve won 5 of their last 7 away in all competition with the majority of those coming in Europa League play. In the Premiership, the Blues have lost 5 of 7 away.
This game should be tightly contested with both teams playing conservatively. The head to head series has for the most part been a low scoring affair and that’s where we’ll look for a betting position. 8 of the last 11 meetings between Chelsea and Man U have seen one or both teams fail to score. Even with this low total, the ‘Under’ is of interst. The six previous meetings at Old Trafford have seen a meager average total of 1.333 with two scoreless ties, a home win to nil and a home loss to nil. Only one of the six has exceeded the total–a 2-1 Man U win in February 2018.