After both sides bungled their chances at establishing their top-four position mid-week-Chelsea drew at home to Watford, while Manchester United were beaten by City rivals, Manchester City, the Red Devils will on Sunday host the Blues as both sides struggle for Champions League qualification. While Chelsea could still book a Champions League spot if they win the UEFA Europa Cup, United’s only hope of competing in the prizest competition at club level is to book a top-four spot
In what is a pivotal game in the race for the top four, Chelsea will travel to Old Trafford on Sunday for what promises to be an exciting Premier League encounter.
Chelsea missed a chance to take advantage of the teams around them slipping up (Arsenal, Spurs, and Manchester United had all lost earlier that weekend) on Monday night against Burnley, with a pair of soft goals cancelling out strikes from N’Golo Kante and Gonzalo Higuain.
The Blues do sit in fourth place, however, three points ahead of Manchester United – who lost to Manchester City on Wednesday in a clash with huge title race implications, but Chelsea fans watched keenly as Pep Guardiola’s outfit pegged back the chasing United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are in a bad way, however, after a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Everton led to the questioning of many players, and the usually meek Norwegian tactician came out and openly said some of his players wouldn’t be part of his plans going forward.
In the reverse fixture back in October, it was an enthralling encounter, with Ross Barkley’s 96th minute goal rescuing a point for the Blues. Then United manager Jose Mourinho was also involved a touchline bust-up after a member of the Chelsea coaching staff celebrated a bit too close to the ‘Special One’.
The teams also met in the FA Cup fifth round at Stamford Bridge, where goals from United midfielders Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba sank Chelsea.
All eyes will be on Maurizio Sarri’s team selection, and particularly which striker he opts to start at the top of his formation. Gonzalo Higuain bagged his first goal since March 3 against Burnley, but the red-hot Olivier Giroud has four goals in his last five starts. The Italian’s decision may go a long way to determining which of these clubs would play Champions League football next season.
Chelsea however have the safety net of Champions League qualification should they win the Europa League, where the face Eintracht Frankfurt in the semifinals.
After their visit to Manchester, Sarri’s men host Watford and visit Leicester in their final two league games, both of whom are involved in the race for seventh and potential Europa League football next season.
Despite a dreadful run of seven defeats in nine games, capped by another derby lesson at the hands of City, United remain in the hunt for a top-four finish.
However, Solskjaer must summon a response when Chelsea visit Old Trafford on Sunday if the Norwegian is to dismiss growing doubts that his superiors jumped the gun in handing him the job on a permanent basis last month.
Meanwhile, Arsenal suffered shocking back-to-back defeats to Crystal Palace and Wolves at the worst time to fall back outside the top four.
Unai Emery’s men have won just six of their 17 Premier League away games and face two more difficult road trips to Leicester and Burnley either side of Brighton’s visit to the Emirates.
However, like Chelsea, Arsenal could end up relying on the Europa League as a route into the Champions League as they face Emery’s old club Valencia in the last four.
Tottenham Hotspurs on the other hand could still seal their place in the Champions League next season by winning the competition as they face Ajax in the last four.
However, Mauricio Pochettino’s men are on course to seal a fourth straight season of Champions League football as they sit third, four points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal.
Tottenham have won all four games since moving into the club’s new stadium and appear to have the easiest run-in of the top four contenders as they host West Ham and Everton either side of a trip to Bournemouth.
Despite being level on points with Chelsea with a game more to play, former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes third-place Spurs are guaranteed a place in the top four, but feels that Sunday’s clash between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford is critical to deciding the other top-four spot.
“If Chelsea would have got those extra two points there would have been a huge deficit, certainly for Manchester United being five points behind (in that scenario),” Carragher told Sky Sports.
“I still think Spurs are there. I look at that now and a lot is riding on United versus Chelsea.
“If Man United come out of this week with four points it’s great for them. The vital game is the one against United for Chelsea. I keep changing my mind on who will get in but not on Spurs.”