Needing just the one point to guarantee Champions League football for the 2023-24 season, Manchester United’s final Premier League home game of the season takes place on Thursday, as Chelsea make the trek to Old Trafford.
The Red Devils are on the brink of sealing a top-four finish thanks to their 1-0 win over Bournemouth last weekend, while the mid-table Blues lost by the same scoreline to newly-crowned champions Manchester City.
While one Brazilian in Roberto Firmino managed to keep Liverpool’s Champions League hopes alive in the Reds’ draw with Aston Villa, his compatriot Casemiro came up with a moment of individual brilliance to keep Man United in the driving seat for a top-four finish at the Vitality Stadium.
The midfielder’s stunning bicycle kick settled an otherwise low-key affair on the South Coast, during which David de Gea – for all the criticism he has received this season – posted a 17th league clean sheet of the season to collect the Golden Glove, and Erik ten Hag is on the verge of achieving his overriding goal in his debut season at Old Trafford.
Sitting three points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, the fourth-placed Red Devils will assure themselves of a place in next season’s Champions League – where Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle United will also be present – should they avoid defeat on Thursday night, but they will get a second bite of the cherry against Fulham on Sunday if they fall short here.
Ten Hag will no doubt aim to wrap up a top-four finish on Thursday before attention turns to their FA Cup final date with bitter rivals Manchester City, and despite a few frailties on the road, Man United have been the toughest nut to crack at home in the current Premier League season.
Indeed, the Red Devils have conceded just eight times at the Theatre of Dreams in the 2022-23 top flight – winning each of their last four without shipping a goal and keeping clean sheets in each of their last six – which certainly does not make for pleasant reading for a goal-shy Chelsea crop.
Preview: Man Utd vs. Chelsea – prediction, team news, lineups
With Arsenal’s defeat to Nottingham Forest on Saturday confirming Man City’s status as champions, Pep Guardiola sent out a second-string team onto the field to meet Chelsea, but Frank Lampard’s injury-hit charges could not spoil the Citizens’ celebrations.
A 12th-minute strike from Julian Alvarez was all it took to separate the two sides on the day, and while Man City had to survive a few scares along the way, the champions celebrated their coronation in the right way – handing Lampard his seventh defeat from nine games in charge of the Blues.
Nevertheless, Lampard was able to cut an upbeat figure after the game as he hailed signs of progress from his Chelsea side, but progress did not translate into points, and the Blues enter Thursday’s game languishing in 12th place in the table and still at risk of being demoted to as low as 14th in their final two fixtures.
Chelsea can only finish a troubled campaign as high as 11th – a spot currently occupied by Crystal Palace, who have a one-point lead having played a game more – and any hopes the London club have of redemption on Manchester soil will not be helped by a meagre record of just two wins from their last 13 Premier League away games.
However, each of the last five meetings between Man United and Chelsea has remarkably ended level, with October’s clash at Stamford Bridge ending 1-1 for the third time in a row, and not since the pre-COVID days of February 2020 have the Red Devils actually beaten the Blues, but a sixth stalemate in a row would be enough for Ten Hag’s men to dine at Europe’s top table.
Manchester United Premier League form:
Chelsea Premier League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
We say: Manchester United 2-0 Chelsea
Chelsea certainly deserve credit for holding Man City to just the one goal at the weekend, but the Citizens’ weakened team and title celebrations may have played a part in that, and prolonged inconsistencies in the final third should prove costly at Old Trafford.
With Man United proving to be an incredibly stingy defensive unit in front of their own fans, Ten Hag’s side should have no problem ending their spate of draws in this fixture to return to the promised land of the Champions League.