Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night with the hopes of getting their season back on track, by beating Chelsea in the League Cup. United became the first team to take points off league leaders Liverpool last weekend, before cruising to victory over Norwich on Sunday, which has given supporters hope that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is turning a corner after a poor start to the season.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that United’s improvement has coincided with the return of key players like Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka but the team still has a long way to go before fans can get too carried away. There are easier games that United could have on the horizon to boost their confidence than facing Frank Lampard’s Chelsea who have been on a brilliant run. Their new manager has led them to seven victories on the bounce and morale is high.
In the last four meetings between the two clubs, United have won two and drawn two, with the most recent fixture falling on the opening day of the season when Solskjaer’s men won 4-0. Everything went right for them that day, but it’s unlikely that we will see a repeat of that scoreline, although United know they’ve got enough in their locker to beat them.
In contrast, while Chelsea have won lots of games this season, they’ve struggled when faced with tougher opposition. They were beaten by both Liverpool and Valencia, and drew at home against Leicester. All their victories in the league have come against teams in the bottom half of the table.
That’s not to say they won’t be able to raise their game against United but progressing to the next round is far from a forgone conclusion, with Lampard yet to have a big win at Stamford Bridge under his belt.
The same accusations were levelled at Solskjaer when he first took charge of United and went on a winning streak.
He won his first five games but all were against weaker opponents. However, United then went on to beat Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea all away from home, before the highlight of Solskjaer’s United managerial career to date, the victory over PSG in Paris.
Lampard will be keen to get revenge for the opening day mauling by United and he will be relying on his young players to do that. The likes of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have thrived since their showing at Old Trafford and will be looking to give a better account of themselves this time around. Abraham saw an early attempt come back off the woodwork against United but has gone on to score eight goals in the league since, making him one of the highest scorers, while Mount has four goals.
Comparisons have been made between Abraham and Rashford, with the latter getting more than his fair share of stick from his fans of his own club as much as anyone else. However, Rashford scored his 50th goal for United on Sunday, with 10 of those coming against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal, which isn’t bad going for a 21-year-old.
It’s interesting to note that he managed this tally in fewer games than it took Cristiano Ronaldo.
This season, Rashford can claim as many goals and assists as Raheem Sterling and Mo Salah, and more than Harry Kane, Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In contrast, Chelsea’s 22-year-old striker has scored just nine times for his club, but following successful stints in the Championship, he has hit the ground running in the Premier League. Yet he still has some way to go before equalling Rashford’s haul.
As United’s game on Sunday proved, Rashford is much more effective when allowed to play out wide with someone else leading the line. His goal and assist for Martial against Norwich, who beat City a few weeks ago, showed the forward close to his best. Martial has three goals in five appearances against Chelsea and will be looking to add to that in their next meeting, having recovered from the injury that has kept him out of eight games so far this season.
Scott McTominay, who has been tasked with being the leader in midfield following the injury to Paul Pogba, has also shone. He celebrated Rashford’s goal against Norwich more passionately than his own, typifying how much it means to play for the club he has represented since he was five.
Both Solskjaer and Lampard have been committed to bringing through youngsters this season, enforced largely by the Glazers’ unwillingness to buy the replacements required in the summer and Chelsea’s transfer ban, but it has been the academy graduates who have been the most important players in both sides so far.
United’s record at Stamford Bridge is generally atrocious, but Solskjaer will be hoping that matters little on Wednesday and that he’s able to knock Chelsea out of another cup competition on their own turf.