The battle at the bottom takes precedent on Saturday as the Premier League winds back into action.
West Brom and Huddersfield dare not lose their relegation six-pointer, while defeat for Brighton or Swansea could see them sucked back into danger.
Here are the major talking points:
West Brom v Huddersfield (19:00)
A game of huge significance awaits at the bottom of the Premier League’s table.
Hosts West Brom have been trapped in the mire all term, not even the appointment of seasoned ex-West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew – famed for his short-term uplifts in form – creating an improvement. Under him, they’ve earned a miserly one win in 13 top-flight matches to sit rooted to the bottom.
Can another poor result be withstood by the 56-yearold, with the club already making changes at boardroom level? Plus, the competition’s second-lowest scorers will again be without the talents of Liverpool loanee Daniel Sturridge up top because of predictable injury.
Yet opponents Huddersfield are not without worry. Before they beat Bournemouth last time out, they were winless in eight games.
A 14th loss for West Brom could see them cut adrift with 10 games left. If results go against the promoted Terriers, they will fall into the drop zone.
Liverpool v West Ham (19:00)
A chance for Liverpool to build some serious momentum is presented by the return to Merseyside of West Ham manager David Moyes.
The Reds are undefeated in their last 15 home matches in the Premier League – including a heart-pounding 4-3 victory against champions-elect Manchester City – and are unbeaten in four games, winning three times.
Complacency is an issue that manager Jurgen Klopp is aware could prevent them leapfrogging second-placed Manchester United, with West Brom and Burnley claiming draws thus far this term at Anfield.
A familiar foe is set to greet them in the opposition dugout. Moyes manned city rivals Everton from 2002-13, but his record against Liverpool is disappointing, winning just five times in 30 attempts.
The Hammers should head north in improved mood, however. They have lost just two of their last 11 matches in the top flight, but were mauled 4-1 in the reverse fixture.
Brighton v Swansea (19:00)
The form guide provides much better reading than the table for both of these clubs,.
In all competitions, Brighton are unbeaten in five matches and have seen record-buy Jurgen Locadia break his duck at the first time of asking.
Opponents Swansea have been rejuvenated by the appointment of Portuguese manager Carlos Carvalhal and haven’t lost in 10 fixtures. They also haven’t conceded more than once during this spell and should welcome back England Under-21 centre-back Alfie Mowson after a spell out injured.
Yet the pressures of being within reach of the dreaded relegation places – Brighton are just two points off third-bottom Southampton, Swansea a single point – could tell.
Will either side go for broke, or play out for a point? With both defences ironclad in respect to being struggling sides, don’t expect much from their first top-flight meeting at the Amex.
Having led the Blues to three Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a trio of League Cups across two stints in the Stamford Bridge dugout, the Portuguese is now focused on steering the Red Devils to glory.
Sunday will be the fifth time Mourinho has led United into battle with Chelsea and the first since an intense public exchange with counterpart Conte.
“I don’t want to speak about it,” Mourinho said when asked about the tension with the Italian.
“I told you before I’m not going to speak about it. Not at all.
“That’s not the point. Very good manager, fantastic team and that’s what is important for me. Just that.”
January was dominated by the tit-for-tat public argument between Mourinho and Conte.
The Portuguese’s comments that he did not need to behave like “a clown” touched a nerve with the Chelsea boss, leading him to accuse the United boss having senile dementia.
It descended from there as Mourinho referred to a four-month suspension Conte served in relation to match-fixing, for which the Italian was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
The Blues manager called the United boss “a little man” and the Portuguese returned fire by saying he treats Conte with “contempt”.
Asked if the Sunday’s match meant more after that public spat, Mourinho said: “No. No.
“To play against Chelsea will mean less and less and less with the years (going on).
“So, of course I left already a couple of years ago and next season three years ago, so step-by-step that feeling of ‘I was the Chelsea manager,’ or ‘I was their manager for them’ I think disappears.
“So, the real meaning of it is that two of the best teams in England, two of the biggest clubs, are playing one more match.
“I have a good relation with the (Chelsea) board.
“I don’t forget how nice they were to me in a difficult period with my father’s departure.
“They showed me in that moment that they feel me as a friend, as somebody that did his best for the club and always respects the club.
“So, in relation to the board, they know that the relation with me is always good.
“With the players, I don’t have any problem, I don’ have any regret, I don’t have any stone (in) my shoes. No problems at all.
“And the fans are fans, with many of them in the street I feel that empathy and that relation that normally should be that connection, that feeling should be forever.
“When I play at Stamford Bridge, some reactions from the fans are just reactions. I don’t care much.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Decision-making does not appear to be something that troubles David De Gea.
His peerless twinning of body and mind was on show yet again on Wednesday night when Manchester United set-up defensively, but played porously, at Sevilla in the Champions League’s round of 16.
His eight saves was the most recorded in the competition by a Red Devils goalkeeper since Edwin van der Sar was pummelled by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and co. in 2010/11’s one-sided final. The reaction time on his stupendous denial of Luis Muriel’s bulleted header was almost superhuman.
It is within the prism of the nervy goalless draw at La Liga’s fifth-placed side that a report from The Times about an imminent contract renewal at Old Trafford seem perplexing.
Why is the world’s best shot stopper prepared to commit even more time to a side well short of domestic or continental dominance? Especially when the alternative is a long-mooted move home to Real Madrid, current holders of the Club World Cup, Spanish top flight and European football’s grandest club prize.
8 - David de Gea has made eight saves against Sevilla, the most for a Manchester United goalkeeper in a Champions League game since Edwin van der Sar vs Barcelona in May 2011 (8). Hero. pic.twitter.com/OpxZQSzK9p— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 21, 2018
UNPICKING HIS DRIVES IS NO EASY TASK
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in the wake of 2012/13’s Premier League victory, United’s average finishing position in the Premier League is sixth. The midweek clash at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium was the club’s first knockout match in the Champions League in four years.
De Gea has won one FA Cup, one Europa League and one League Cup after his acrimonious collapsed move to Madrid in August 2015. Their inferior Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas has claimed one La Liga, one Supercopa de Espana, two Champions Leagues, one UEFA Super Cup – against United – and two Club World Cups since then.
Even accounting for Los Blancos’ implosion in 2017/18, you’d still back them to have greater access to the game’s grandest trophies moving ahead.
It is not only sport which ties De Gea to the Spanish capital. The family of the man signed for £18.9 million (Dh111.3m) from Atletico Madrid in June 2011 still reside there, as does fiancee Edurne Garcia Almagro.
Beyond football, the cultural hub of Madrid also gets almost double the average sunlight hours of industrial Manchester. Life is better there.
The case for staying appears flimsier than the Phil Jones-Chris Smalling axis at centre-back.
WHY IS HE WILLING TO PUT PEN TO PAPER?
For all De Gea’s talent, goalkeeper is not a position historically valued by Madrid president Florentino Perez.
Iker Casillas was never close to being their top earner, despite captaining club and country to enormous success. Huge wages are instead paid to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
This summer’s enormous refit will witness princely sums paid to reputed targets such as Tottenham striker Harry Kane, Paris Saint-Germain attacker Neymar or whoever else Los Blancos turn their attention to.
Yet, the pot of money no longer appears as limitless as it did in the ‘Galacticos’ days.
UEFA’s annual financial report released last month evidenced United’s 32-per-cent growth in revenue which has propelled them ahead of Madrid and Barca to top the list at £611m (D3.1 billion). This trend is only moving in one direction thanks to the broadcast deals signed by the Premier League that make PSG the only side capable of matching the Manchester clubs in terms of pure spending power.
De Gea’s agent Jorge Mendes will know he can demand, at least, parity with United’s new top earner Alexis Sanchez at £350,000 per week (Dh1.8m) plus bonuses and image rights – and deserve it.
Madrid were blown out of the water last summer by PSG for emerging forward Kylian Mbappe and by United a year prior for France midfielder Paul Pogba.
With Madrid poised to buy at least one big star for the first time since 2014, their priorities lie elsewhere. No longer the apex predator, resources need to be better managed.
This is why Belgium No1 Thibaut Courtois’ reluctance, thus far, to ink fresh terms on a deal set to expire in June 2019 at Chelsea will have gained their attention. As is the ex-Atleti loanee’s publicised desire to be reunited with his two children in Madrid.
Dwindling contracts equal less money.
Beyond monetary concerns, De Gea’s personal investment in United is substantial. He’s already been at the club longer than Ronaldo and no matter the current negativity, success appears closer under fellow Mendes client Jose Mourinho.
Another summer spend near £200m (Dh1bn) will be invested by the Premier League’s second-placed side.
Beyond the current Pogba furore, proven-winner Mourinho remains popular within the United dressing room.
The Red Devils also showed unmatched patience with him throughout the struggles of his error-prone early days.
With Madrid no longer the golden ticket, this historical stance is being met by present-day loyalty.
‘Dave saves’ has turned into ‘Dave stays’.