There’s a hell of a lot riding on this Chelsea v Man United winner-takes-all encounter, as there are no replays at this stage of the FA Cup for the first-time ever.
With Manchester City white-hot favourites to life the FA Cup, Monday night’s winner has the only realistic shot of preventing them.
And the stats point to Maurizio Sarri avoiding the lonely walk to the job centre come Tuesday morning.
The last 12 meetings of these sides – at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford – have resulted in seven home wins and five draws. If that trend continues, you can see why Chelsea are 1/2 to reach the next round, while United are 11/8.
This is the third season in a row in which the sides have clashed in the FA Cup, and the fifth time in the last 13 seasons.
Chelsea have knocked United out with a 1-0 win the last four times they’ve met in the FA Cup (albeit one was in a replay in 2013, and one was after extra-time in the 2007 final).
The last time United put Chelsea out, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a late substitute and Fergie’s side went on to win the treble. It’s been a while!
But can it happen again? With the pastings the Blues have been taking lately, it’s certainly not impossible.
However, for all they’ve been terrible on the road, Chelsea’s home record in big games has been good. Four wins and two draws from their last six in all competitions against other teams from the big six.
United, for their part, have won at both Tottenham and Arsenal, but were brushed aside by an under-strength PSG with minimum fuss last week. And, truth be told, they were a little fortunate to win those visits to north London based on the chances too.
I’ll be on Chelsea to win in this one.
Goal scorers are a nightmare to predict for Cup matches, as you never know who’ll start with the likely squad rotation.
Both managers went with strong teams in their last domestic cup games, so we can probably expect more of the same here for such a high-profile fixture. Maurizio Sari can select Gonzalo Higuain. He’s only been at the club for about half an hour, but he’s already scored more league goals for the Blues than Olivier Giroud has this season.
The Argentine hasn’t scored against United before, but he did assist Ronaldo’s decisive goal when Real Madrid knocked the Red Devils out of the 2012/13 Champions League. Higuain is 11/8 to go one better and score himself in this one.
The favourite is Eden Hazard though. He’s 9/2 to open the scoring, or 7/5 to bag a goal at some point. While he hasn’t been in great scoring form in the big league matches over the past two seasons – just two goals, and one of those was a penalty.
Three of Hazard’s five career goals against United have come in cup competitions.
Pay the penalty
Hazard might get a helping hand here as Kevin Friend is the man in charge and only three Premier League refs point to the spot more often than he does.
United have won the most penalties in the top flight, with Chelsea joint-fifth, so there must be a fair chance of a spot kick.
It’s 9/5 for Friend to award a penalty in 90 minutes, and 1/100 for Paul Pogba to do a stupid slow run up when taking it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a problem when it comes to goals. United’s top two scorers in the big six mini-league over the past two seasons have been Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, who have each scored five times. However, they were both injured against PSG, so don’t automatically expect them to start.
Would ya Luk’ at this
Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were up top for United in the 3-1 victory over Arsenal in the last round, so now you see why I fancy Chelsea.
Neither has a great career record against the Blues – scoring three and two goals respectively – and neither has a good recent record in big games either.
If forced to pick one – I’d opt for Lukaku at 21/10 to score. If I was a United fan, I’d hope Rashford plays up top. The England international is 6/1 to bag the opener, if he starts.
Whoever plays, goals will be at a premium. Chelsea have only conceded three goals in their last 12 matches at the Bridge, so under 2.5 goals at 10/11 and a ‘no’ bet in the both teams to score market (at 11/10) are the way to go.
If I’m right, United will then be able to focus on their main aim of this season: derailing Liverpool’s title bid when they clash next Sunday.
*Prices correct at time of posting