Both are managed by club legends who are heavily invested in youth, both shipped out wantaway players by deadline day but failed to replace them (Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz) and both have a heck of a job on their hands to guarantee top four and Champions League football next season.
The selection decisions both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard make on Sunday evening (kickoff GST 19:30) – in what could scarcely be a bigger game on the Premier League’s matchday one – will give us a glimpse into their 2019/20 mindsets.
An area of unknown for United. Whereas Man City have Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, while Liverpool have one Mohamed Salah, it’s seemingly Daniel James – who had not kicked a football in a professional game 18 months ago – versus a 17-year-old Mason Greenwood versus a rather pedestrian Juan Mata.
Logic would indicate that Mata supplements the forward line with experience against Chelsea – but his play style is wholly at odds with the high press and breakneck speed that Solskjaer wants his forwards to operate at. Ideally James and Greenwood would be eased in as impact subs, but we’ll see just how much an effusive Solskjaer trusts his young players with this particular decision on Sunday.
Paul Pogba will be marooned in Manchester and dreaming of Madrid for at least another season after United elected not to sign a potential replacement or a midfielder full stop. If Solskjaer predominately plays 4-2-3-1, however, it’ll be him plus one in that double pivot.
Which brings us to a player who has improved to such lengths that he’s a cover star on Pro Evolution Soccer. On form, there’s nothing to suggest that £40 million man Nemanja Matic or £50m man Fred should be higher up the pecking order than academy product Scott McTominay.
He is combative, a crisp passer and is a bigger goal threat than either Matic or Fred. Given Pogba’s off-piste tendencies, it’s a crucial partnership this year.
With big Rom gone, United better hope at least one of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial or … Alexis Sanchez pierce nets with frequency this season.
If Sanchez stays before the European-wide window closes, Solskjaer has indicated the thus far incredibly underwhelming Chilean will be used as a striker. Martial is the one who has taken the No9 shirt and is arguably a more instinctive striker than Rashford, having scored the same number of Premier League goals last season – 10 – despite playing 1,624 minutes to Rashford’s 2,345.
Don’t expect either to stay the furthest forward, though – both interchanged fluidly between left wing and striker to often devastating effect in pre-season. It’ll be interesting to see how it works come crunch time.
For so long his defensive frailties have been overshadowed by his presence in attack, but the scales have finally tipped the other way. Instead, Emerson Palmieri is expect to start the season over Marcos Alonso from left-back after a series of impressive displays in pre-season.
It’s not a huge surprise. Remember, Alonso did not even feature in Baku as Chelsea beat Arsenal to win the Europa League. Italy international Emerson was particularly potent in Chelsea’s 5-3 victory over Red Bull Salzburg over the summer (he left the pitch when the score was 4-1) and given the amount of pace United could field down the right, his superior awareness on the back foot should see him strike an early blow in this selection battle.
The N’Golo Kante experiment is over. Whereas Maurizio Sarri tried to turn the pocket-sized forager into a creative mastermind, Lampard has wisely decided to let the goal-scorers and playmakers do the goal-scoring and playmaking.
As such the No10 battle is a straight shootout between two Englishmen in Ross Barkley and Mason Mount. While it’s easy to get carried away with the next Super Frank comparisons with Mount, not to mention the time the pair spent as master and apprentice at Derby, don’t sleep on Barkley.
After a solid comeback season in 2018/19, Barkley posted an outrageous statline of four goals and three assists across six pre-season friendlies. It’s a headache Lampard will be glad to have.
Remember when the debate was between Lukaku and Morata in the summer of 2017? Well, both are officially gone – which means in the blue corner on Sunday it’ll be one of Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham or Michy Batshuayi.
Abraham has started all but two of Chelsea’s pre-season games in a huge vote of confidence for a 21-year-old who has twice hit 26 goals in a season, albeit in the Championship with Bristol City and Aston Villa. His 6ft3in frame could still added a layer or two of bulk but he has the raw tools that a maximised Olivier Giroud simply does not.
With there still being talk of Batshuayi leaving before August is up, the time is now for Abraham.
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