Manchester United – Chelsea
Attention turns to Old Trafford as Manchester United and Chelsea open the new season!
Preseason – Manchester United and Chelsea
Both Manchester United and Chelsea enter the new Premier League season aiming to qualify for the Champions League. There are clear question marks over both clubs – Chelsea scrambled for third last year, while United’s descent under Mourinho’s was only partly rectified by Solskjaer, whose results deteriorated after a promising start at the club.
Preseason has been a mixed affair for both teams. Clearly, these games are mainly fitness exercises intended to prepare the players for a long and gruelling season – both Chelsea and United will be playing European football in addition to the three domestic tournaments. But results always matter, and United have look composed and inspired this preseason. They’ve won 6/6 games – including a penalty win over AC Milan – scoring an impressive twelve goals in the process, while only conceding three goals. Chelsea have won four and drawn twice but pulled a shocker by losing to the Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale.
It is only preseason but Chelsea’s defensive struggles have been a recurring issue for new manager Frank Lampard. Conceding three goals against Reading and the Austrian side Salzburg is no reason for panic, but it is worrying. Achieving more defensive stability and figuring out his favoured backline will be Lampard’s first task.
Both sides have been active on the transfer market, with United acquiring Daniel James from Swansea and Harry Maguire from Leicester. Lukaku is rumoured to be leaving while Andre Herrera’s expiring contract saw him leave the club for PSG, and the transfer saga surrounding Paul Pogba looks far from finished. Much could change before Sunday’s late kickoff.
That is far from the case in West London – the club was hit by a transfer ban earlier this year, making them ineligible to sign players this transfer window. However, they had already been proactive by signing Christian Pulisic up in January, and the loan deal with Real Madrid’s Kovacic included an option-to-buy which unsurprisingly was activated. Both Bakayoko and Batshuayi have returned from their respective loan deals, although only the latter seems to play a role in Lampard’s plans for the season.
Manchester United playing at home
The biggest worry is the fact that Eden Hazard has left the club, marking the beginning of a new era for Chelsea. Pulisic looks like the immediate replacement, but he has only sporadically shown his class at Dortmund, and could struggle to acclimatise to a new league. The appointment of Lampard seems to indicate a renewed faith in the club’s highly rated academy – but can they stay patient if the short-term results are lacking?
Those questions won’t be answered this Saturday, but we’ll get an idea of where the clubs are at. Solskjaer and Lampard might be unexperienced managers, but they are still in command of world class players. At Old Trafford, United are usually up for it against the top sides, and they will be the favourites this Sunday.