United will be looking to put behind their midweek loss to Derby County, a defeat on penalties that saw them crash out of the Carabao Cup in the third round. However, that result has not been the biggest source of controversy at the club this week, as the relationship between Mourinho and star midfielder Paul Pogba has taken centre-stage.
Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of Saturday’s clash.
ALL EYES ON POGBA AND MOURINHO
Old Trafford may not quite be living up to its Theatre of Dreams moniker these days, but it’s still a stage for high drama. The past week has seen Pogba and Mourinho make headlines for all the wrong reasons, from a post-match interview to a heavily-scrutinised training ground interaction to a pre-match press conference – not to mention, confirmation of Mourinho’s decision to strip Pogba of the vice-captaincy.
Now, the attention can shift back to football, but the cameras will still be trained on the two protagonists. What is going on in Pogba’s mind? Will he stick to the game plan that his manager has laid out for the team, a week after criticising it in the press? Will he be subdued, after being admonished by Mourinho for giving the ball away in the build-up to Wolves’ equaliser last week and being demoted in the captaincy hierarchy? Or worse, will he be reckless, deciding to do whatever he wants on the pitch, looking to prove a point?
Meanwhile, Mourinho’s reactions to anything Pogba does, good or bad, will be put under the scanner, as well as any interactions he has with the midfielder during the match.
Come Saturday, London Stadium will be a theatre of a different kind.
CHANGE AT RIGHT-BACK?
While the scrutiny has been on Pogba’s hold on the Manchester United armband, the man who is actually designated to wear it every week should start worrying about his position not just as first-choice captain, but as a first-choice player in general.
Antonio Valencia has been a remarkable servant for the club, and a couple of years ago he had a strong claim to be the best right-back in the Premier League. Now, however, Diogo Dalot has arrived to take his spot, and though he’s only made two appearances, the 19-year-old has shown enough to suggest that, at the very least, he should be given an extended run in the side to stake his claim.
Valencia may still be the superior defender, but too often, his attacking contribution is poor. United rely on their full-backs for width, and crosses, and the service coming from the right has too often been poor. Dalot would be an instant improvement on that front, as his crossing has looked far more threatening than what the senior man has been providing of late. See, for example, United’s last-gasp equaliser against Derby in midweek, when the young Portugal right-back delivered a pinpoint cross for Marouane Fellaini.
Mourinho believes, perhaps rightly, that Dalot needs more time to acclimatise to English football, but how long will it be before he begins to give the youngster – a player he brought in this summer – more starts?
HOW REAL IS WEST HAM’S RESURGENCE?
Manuel Pellegrini’s reign at West Ham began with four straight league losses, but the Hammers have righted the ship since then with a win over Everton and a battling draw last week against Chelsea. They’ve also had two comfortable wins in the Carabao Cup, including this week’s resounding 8-0 win over Macclesfield Town.
So, are they for real?
Declan Rice’s form as a shield for the defence should give them cause for celebration – though that’s unlikely to happen until the 19-year-old agrees a new contract at the club. Further forward, Marko Arnautovic is always a threat, though he’ll be looking to improve his record of two goals in 11 appearances against United. Summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko has begun to make an impression, while fellow new arrival Felipe Anderson has also played well, though the club’s record signing has been solid more than spectacular so far.
There’s plenty to suggest that Pellegrini’s ways are starting to take hold at West Ham. The draw against Chelsea showed this side’s resilience and adaptability, and another result like that – or better – against the visitors from Manchester will send a statement. And United are on the verge of a crisis. Can West Ham take advantage?
Southampton travel to Molineux on Saturday, with Nuno’s side having earned plaudits since their return to the Premier League.
Wolves have had 89 attempts on goal, a total only beaten by the top three ahead of the weekend.
But they have scored just six goals in their first six top-flight games and have not scored more than one in a match since their opening day 2-2 draw with Everton.
“We cannot dream and expect these things to happen,” Nuno said, with Wolves having also conceded six.
“Tomorrow we have to look and work hard for the chance to come. First you have to produce it.
“The way to do it is work harder, in the training sessions, knowing the players’ confidence and talent will come naturally.
“This is what we want to achieve, not only us but every team.”
Ivan Cavaleiro (back) and Leander Dendoncker (match fitness) are yet to play in the league this season but are now available.
However, Nuno is expected to keep faith with the side who sit 10th in the table after six games, meaning £18million record buy Adama Traore continues to wait for his full Premier League debut.
Wolves would also equal a Premier League record by naming an unchanged starting line-up for the seventh consecutive match from the start of a season.
Nuno added: “It’s important, not only this season but last season, to keep the consistency. It doesn’t mean the other options are not good but it depends what you want for the game.
“If things work out OK and you feel you can still improve, you make the decisions based on what you see. I’m very happy with the squad.
“Internal competition is good.”
A sense of familiarity defines a clash on Saturday that should shed light on who will be Manchester City’s most-persistent challengers in 2018/19.
Belgium forward Eden Hazard’s sublime late solo goal saw Chelsea come away from Liverpool on Wednesday with an encouraging 2-1 victory in the Carabao Cup’s third round. Only three days later, a repeat meeting – this time at Stamford Bridge – of greater resonance awaits in the Premier League.
The visitors boast the division’s only 100-per-cent record, despite, apparently, not hitting top gear. Maurizio Sarri’s revitalised Blues now find themselves two points in arrears after last weekend’s dull goalless stalemate at West Ham United ended their spotless run.
A classic rivalry – the fixture is the 21st century’s most played in English football – and a potentially classic contest. This should be one to savour.
TALKING POINT – PUTTING A STAKE IN THE GROUND
The season is less than two months old, but this already feels like a defining clash.
Optimism abounds at the Bridge after Sarri successfully transplanted his heavy-pressing, possession-heavy football from Napoli. The rigours and recriminations from countryman Antonio Conte’s bitter second season have been consigned to the past.
In the opposite corner, Liverpool’s £160.9 million (Dh770.8m) summer spend has, seemingly, helped construct their strongest side in at least a decade. When allied to the resident genius of manager Jurgen Klopp, the regular refrain of “it’s our year” does not ring hollow this time.
Klopp is an astute watcher of football and hints at where Chelsea can be hurt will have been mined from the Carabao Cup loss.
Furthermore, Arsenal’s Unai Emery deduced last month that space is to be found on the edge of the Blues’ penalty box now that anchorman-without-compare N’Golo Kante has been pushed up and Italy’s Jorginho is selected for his passing ability – his 180 attempted passes against the Hammers was the most since PL records began – rather than defensive nous.
An invitation, if needed, for Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to strike when full-strength XIs are deployed.
Beyond the battle in the dugout, intriguing individual bouts await. Hazard’s five goals and two assists from six appearance – the Premier League’s best combined return – showcase a player free of both a World Cup hangover and the tactical shackles of the previous regime.
If a rib injury keeps supreme Netherlands centre-back Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines, the promise of more to follow only strengthens.
Egypt forward Salah has not yet hit such heights in 2018/19. If he can add to his tally of four goals in seven matches against his former employers, then redress will be at hand.
The Reds are in need of such a boost. They’ve won just two of their last 15 matches against Chelsea, also failing to keep a clean sheet during their previous 14 top-flight matches with them.
KEY BATTLE – OLIVIER GIROUD v JOE GOMEZ
Don’t expect Hazard and Salah to define this match.
The real differential will be found elsewhere.
Chelsea centre forward Olivier Giroud comes alive when Liverpool are in opposition. His five goals in his last six league appearances versus them includes 2017/18’s winner during the corresponding fixture.
This contrasts the wasteful performance of deflated stand-in Alvaro Morata on Wednesday.
If Van Dijk does fail a late fitness test, Giroud’s proclivity for goals will be brought into sharper focus.
England’s Joe Gomez has revelled in playing next to the Dutchman at centre-back. Cameroon’s Joel Matip, if required, must provide similar assurance.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
“I don’t think so [when asked if Carabao Cup win provides an advantage]. Maybe they can increase their determination after Wednesday.
“It will be a difficult match tomorrow. I think they are ready now to win the Premier.”
“Before we started, it was clear the game at Chelsea would not be a children’s birthday.
“It will be tough and intense for both sides. It’s a big one. It already sounds good, and we have to make sure it is good.”
WHAT WE THINK – CHELSEA 1-3 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool’s attacking weapons should prove too much for the hosts, who gave up several glaring chances last weekend in the 0-0 draw at West Ham.
Hazard showed in the Carabao Cup meeting that the Blues possess Europe’s in-form player. This will not be enough, however, for the result to be repeated when the full-strength sides clash this weekend.