Manchester United v Chelsea: Talking points ahead of top-four showdown

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A lot will be riding on 90 minutes of football when Manchester United host Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.

The encounter is being tipped as a showdown for a top-four spot with both sides firmly in the running.

The hosts will be determined to put an end to a horror run of results culminating with the two from the past week which saw them thumped 4-0 at Goodison Park before convincingly losing the Manchester derby 2-0 at Old Trafford.

Here, we look at talking points ahead of the clash.

TOP FOUR BATTLE

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri

After Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday, the race for the final two Champions League spots has been thrown wide open again and will certainly be going down to the wire. In that respect, there’s no bigger game left this season than Chelsea’s trip to Old Trafford.

Maurizio Sarri’s side currently occupy fourth spot and victory would make them favourites to maintain that position or even catch Spurs with Watford and Leicester City to face in their final two fixtures. That’s easier said than done though with the visitors losing each of their last five visits to the red half of Manchester.

Anything other than a win on Sunday for United would effectively end their top four hopes. Three points would drag them level with Chelsea who have a superior goal difference. Given Arsenal’s horrendous away record of late, their trips to Leicester and Burnley could easily see them falter.

That gives both United and Chelsea even more incentive ahead of their fixture. A draw doesn’t do either team much good, though it wouldn’t necessarily put the Blues out of the running. Meanwhile, the fact that United have no European commitments while Arsenal and Chelsea have Europa League semi-finals to contend with could well play a decisive role.

OLE NEEDS A WIN

Solskjaer has spoken of a need for a rebuild at United.

Solskjaer has spoken of a need for a rebuild at United.

Results in recent weeks seem determined to balance out Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s euphoric start to life as United manager. While the goals were flying in during his first ten games or so in charge, his side has now endured 527 minutes of football without a goal from open play.

The Norwegian has now overseen seven defeats in the last nine games and desperately needs a big win to arrest this slide, not just for their top four ambitions this term in in preparation for next season.

There are way too many murmurs of players wanting out of the club during the summer with the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera all mentioned while contract standoffs with Marcus Rashford and David de Gea have also been reported.

The atmosphere at Old Trafford needs a lift and the victory over Chelsea, who have plenty of problems of their own, would be just the tonic.

PFA DEBATE

Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard

There are parallels to be drawn between Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba. Both players are often criticised for not meeting expectations but are undeniably the most talented players at their respective clubs. In Real Madrid, they also have a common suitor while both have flirted back with the Spanish giants.

Most recently though, Pogba and Hazard have been spoken in the same breath with regard to the recent release of the PFA Team of the Year. Several cried foul at the Frenchman’s inclusion while Chelsea’s ace was omitted.

It’s suspected that the United midfielder may have benefited from the fact that the votes are cast in March given that his form has drastically dipped since while the Belgian has shown a marked improvement.

Either way, Sunday’s clash will have the duo grace the same pitch again, lending more material for a debate that seems set to rumble on.

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