Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge for the second time this season, after his unceremonious sacking last year. This time, he takes his Manchester United side to face Chelsea in the quarterfinals of the Emirates FA Cup.
The Portuguese endured a forgettable visit to the Bridge earlier this season when the Red Devils were humiliated 4-0 by Antonio Conte’s side, back in October 2016. However, Jose will be hoping that his team puts up a much better fight in the Cup encounter on Sunday night.
The Blues have been a rampant force this season and look set to take home the Premier League trophy. But Mourinho would like to get the better of his former employers, especially after the humiliation earlier in the season. But, what does he need to do to come out triumphantly at the Bridge this weekend?
Here we give you three things that could go a long way in helping United emerge out victorious.
Stifle Hazard and Costa
While the entire Chelsea squad has been brilliant this season, the fact that they have been so dominant has been largely due to the attacking contingent of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.
Both the stars endured a poor campaign last time around, under Mourinho himself, and were criticised for their tame displays. But under Conte, both Hazard and Costa have managed to bounce back exceptionally and seem to have found their mojo back. Costa has scored 18 times already this season across all competitions, while Hazard has netted on 11 occasions. Both have set up five goals each for their team and have been the driving force for Chelsea’s resurgence.
United have had a strong defensive record this season, but were terribly exposed by the Blues last time around. However, if they are to stand a chance to progress to the semifinals, stopping Costa and Hazard will be at the top of the list of things to do.
Hit Them on the Counter
Chelsea have been one of the most solid sides in England this season. The Blues have the joint best defensive record in the Premier League this term, along with Tottenham Hotspur, having conceded only 20 goals so far.
The back-three system, with Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill, along with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso as the wing-backs, has been extremely hard to crack this season. However, there could be a way for United to get through on Sunday. Earlier in February, Paul Clement’s Swansea City visited the Stamford Bridge and may have managed to find a chink in their armour. The Swans may have lost the game 3-1, but they found plenty of opportunities to run at the defence, with pace on the break.
With the added quality that United have, they could really hurt Chelsea if they manage to break away at pace and get into spaces behind the Chelsea midfield.
Exploiting the Wings Could Be Key For United
Chelsea’s two wing-backs this season, Moses and Alonso have been known to press high up the field and as a result, have left open spaces behind. Not a lot of opponents have managed to test them defensively and hence, they have come out unscathed so far this season.
However, Manchester United have the pace and the quality to cause them troubles down the flanks. With Zlatan Ibrahimović absent due to suspension, United will employ the speedy Marcus Rashford at the top. And if Mourinho plays with a 4-2-3-1 setup, with Rashford leading the line and Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard out wide, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan pulling the strings from the central role, they could manage to hurt Chelsea.
In Martial and Lingard, United have the quality and the pace to exploit the acres of spaces left behind, while Mkhitaryan has the ability to get past players with speed and bring others into play with his vision. Exploiting the flanks could be the key for United on Sunday.