Jose Mourinho will return to Stamford Bridge this Sunday for the first time since being dismissed by the West London club back in December 2015.
Both sides, with just two points separating them, are yet to truly hit their stride this season, displaying the occasional moment of brilliance but ultimately coming across as ephemerally promising, mostly inane forces.
A win would see Mourinho’s side climb to fifth, whilst a loss could stretch the distance from fourth spot to six points. It is, by all accounts, a crucial fixture.
With that a mind, here are three players that must start against Antonio Conte’s side this weekend.
Jesse Lingard: The 23-year-old was an effervescent force against Fenerbahce and found the net during his last visit to Stamford Bridge. His unyielding energy on the right hand side, combined with his tidy link up play, will keep Marcos Alonso – set to play as a left wing-back – busy all afternoon, and could open up gaps for the likes of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini to exploit from deep.
Marcus Rashford: Antonio Conte, reacting to his side’s humiliation at the hands of Arsenal, adopted a 3-4-3 formation against Leicester in an attempt to keep tabs on likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy running in behind the defence, and it worked a treat. The Algerian, pursued by Alonso all game, wasn’t able to cut inside and link up with the Englishman at all.
Rashford, however, can exploit Chelsea’s refusal to field a conventional full-back with his direct, mazy style going forward on the left hand side, subsequently pulling Cesar Azpilicueta – who will play as a right-sided centre-back – out of position and creating space in between the Spaniard and David Luiz. Conte, perhaps quite boldly, didn’t offer Azpilicueta any cover on the right hand side against Leicester, using Pedro as an outright winger instead. The 18-year-old, against a similar set-up, could wreak havoc.
Luke Shaw: The Englishman was United’s finest player during his last visit to Stamford Bridge, all the way back in April 2015. His sheer energy and power surging forward gave Chelsea – managed by Mourinho at the time – innumerable problems, and he’ll be keen to do the same this time around.
His opponent on Sunday remains unclear. It could be, as it was in 2015, the in-form Eden Hazard, who will look to float all over the pitch, or perhaps Pedro – a more conventional right winger, with an aptitude for cutting inside. Either way, Shaw’s involvement is paramount when it comes to precluding Chelsea’s frontmen from finding space, and his combination with either Rashford or Anthony Martial promises to pose a real threat going forward.