The Premier League is back for 2019/20, and the big match on the opening weekend sees Manchester United host Chelsea on Sunday at 16.30.
This used to be a key fixture in the title race. After all, one of these clubs won the league in 10 of the last 15 seasons. But those days are gone – Paddy thinks they’ve got less than 5% chance between them of coming top of the pile in May.
This is the opening battle for a fourth-place finish at best.
Both teams were at least 25 points off the title pace in 2018/19, and it’s impossible to see them making up that shortfall with managers who are inexperienced at this level. Indeed, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is second favourite in Paddy’s list of managers to leave before Christmas. Perhaps he could get some seasonal work at the Arndale Centre?
The United gaffer needs a good start if he wants to avoid that fate, but is he going to get it here? Chelsea have a pretty wretched record in this fixture, so he might. The Blues’ last win in the red half of Manchester took place in May 2013, after United had already secured the title, and their last Old Trafford victory when both teams were trying was back in 2010.
While pre-season results should always be taken with a grain of salt, both teams have been in good form. United have won five and drawn one (winning on penalties), with Chelsea only losing to Kawasaki Frontale.
And you have to be realistic, who can hope to compete with the reigning J League champions?
United faced Chelsea in the third last league match of last season, and it ended in a 1-1 draw with Marcos Alonso cancelling out Juan Mata’s opener. It was the only point the Blues took on the road against a top six side last season, and they’ve won none of their last nine away league games against teams from the big six.
With United’s new look defence yet to bed in, Chelsea may be able to take advantage, but their own defence hasn’t looked too hot lately, conceding three to both Reading and Salzburg. So I’ll sit on the fence and go for a stalemate.
Best bet: Draw at 9/4.
Paddy thinks this will be a 1-1 draw, just as it was in April, based on the correct score odds of 5/1. Looking at the longer term history of this fixture also suggests it will be a low-scoring match. In September 2011, United won 3-1 in a game best remembered for Fernando Torres missing an open goal, the klutz. The seven meetings at Old Trafford since have seen a total of just 10 goals. Both teams scored in three of the games, and only one – a 2-1 home win in 2018 – paid out on over 2.5 goals.
United’s last three home games against other top clubs featured fewer than three goals, as did three of Chelsea’s last four away from the Bridge. Bet low in the goals market, my friends.
Best bet: Under 2.5 goals at 3/4.
I am expecting a goal or two, though, just not loads of them. United have been sharing them around in pre-season, with five players each netting once in the International Champions Cup. One of the quintet was Anthony Martial. He scored four goals in the top six mini-league last season – no other player from either team bagged more than a pair – including two at Stamford Bridge. He was also only one of three players to start in all three ICC matches this summer, so he should start here.
Best bet: Anthony Martial to score first at 11/2.
With Lampard’s new look Hazard-less Chelsea, it’s tricky to select a scorer. Ross Barkley has been their top goal-getter in pre-season, but because he scored just three league goals last season it’s hard to claim he can maintain his summer form. Tammy Abraham, at 11/5, is the Blues’ shortest-priced player, but can he cut it at this level?
Pedro finished 2018/19 with four goals in his last five starts, and has played more pre-season minutes than any other Chelsea player. He’s their best hope on Sunday.
Best bet: Pedro to score anytime at 4/1.
*Prices correct at time of publishing but can shift faster than Dan James