The glamour tie of the FA Cup fifth round takes place on Monday night as holders Chelsea face Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in what is a replay of the 2018 FA Cup final…
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suddenly finds himself in the middle of his most testing period as Manchester United boss to date. The unbeaten streak has finally come to an end following their midweek 2-0 defeat to PSG at Old Trafford. That game marked the first of three tough challenges the Norwegian will face in a short period of time and the initial stumble could easily see United fall flat in the subsequent games – starting with Monday night’s trip to Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Maurizio’s men may have made a Sarri show of themselves against Manchester City last weekend, but they come into this game having bounced back with a solid 2-1 away win against Swedish giants Malmö in the Europa League. They also boast one of the best home records of any Premier League side this season – they’ve lost just once at the Bridge, Jamie Vardy scoring the decisive goal in a 1-0 win for Leicester City in December.
There’s a weight of history going against United in this one, too: the last four meetings between the sides in the FA Cup have ended 1-0 to Chelsea and the Red Devils have lost three of their last five FA Cup matches at Stamford Bridge. A defeat for Solskjaer’s side on Monday night would also mean that Chelsea would become the first team to eliminate United in five consecutive FA Cup meetings.
In terms of form, it’s a case of a slightly movable object meeting a somewhat stoppable force. As mentioned, Chelsea’s home record has been excellent, but United travel to London on a six-game winning streak on the road. Both sides have suffered major recent setbacks which could impact their respective seasons, but Sarri’s charges have already demonstrated bouncebackability with their win against Malmo.
For United, though, there’s no soft fixture they can use to restore some confidence after their defeat to an injury-ravaged PSG as Solskjaer faces a run of games which could very well define his own future in the Old Trafford hotseat. His players have to find a way to pick themselves up against Chelsea before hosting Liverpool in the Premier League the following weekend in a match which could have huge ramifications for both the title race and the top four.
All that said, and despite the fact Solskjaer has to make do without injured duo Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, we reckon United will get the job done at Stamford Bridge and pile further pressure on Sarri — who admitted post-Pep Guardiola handshake refusal that his job “is always at risk.” Key to United upsetting the odds here, as well as recent history, will be Marcus Rashford.
The 21-year-old frontman has spearheaded the United revival under Solskjaer thus far, scoring seven goals and notching four assists in his last ten Premier League appearances. He didn’t feature in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Fulham in the Premier League, keeping him fresh for this run-in.
While he was unable to make a dent against PSG, we think he’s bound to score against Chelsea as Solskjaer will be more attack-minded than his bus-parking predecessor.
However, Chelsea’s home record can’t be ignored, nor can the fact the last Premier League meeting between the sides in October finished 2-2 at the Bridge. That one ended with a late, LATE Ross Barkley equaliser and Mourinho trying to fight Blues’ technical assistant Marco Ianni who had celebrated the goal in an overzealous fashion. This will be Solskjaer’s first game against Chelsea as United boss and somehow we don’t think the baby-faced assassin would react to such provocation.
With that in mind, we’re backing United to qualify (as there are no replays at this stage of the competition), both teams to score and Rashford to bag a goal. We also reckon it’ll be a good, clean game with no fisticuffs and handshakes all ‘round. We can dream anyway.