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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Chelsea defence to lay foundations at Stamford Bridge

Red Devils' depleted forward line could struggle

David Luiz celebrates with defensive partner Gary Cahill
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FA Cup quarter-final
BBC1, 7.45pm Monday

It's hard to imagine Manchester United would have beaten Southampton in the EFL Cup final without Zlatan Ibrahimovic dragging them out of the mire, and it's harder still to think they can topple Chelsea without the talismanic Swede leading the line.

Zlatan is suspended for this FA Cup quarter-final and United offer significantly less threat without their star man.

That lack of threat is exacerbated by the subsequent loss of all three of his replacements, with Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Antony Martial all either injured or unwell.

That said, none of those three could make a compelling case to step up, with Rashford short of form and confidence, Rooney having led the line just twice for United this term and Jose Mourinho yet to trust Martial on point.

Marouane Fellaini could play as a target man and would offer a physical presence and nuisance value if nothing else.

Otherwise, Mourinho will either have to adopt a false nine formation or risk throwing in youngster James Wilson against a defence who have conceded just eight goals in 13 home league games this term. Neither option exactly screams out as being Mourinho's style.

There are goals elsewhere in the team but perhaps not as many as you might think. Only Juan Mata (with six goals), Paul Pogba (four) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (three) have scored more than twice in the league this season and Mourinho may not be willing to risk the recently recovered Mkhitaryan just three days after United's wearying 4,000-mile round trip to Russia.

The Red Devils are less than watertight at the other end too, with Rostov, Bournemouth, Southampton and Blackburn all finding the net against United in their last five outings.

And Southampton, the most attack-minded of those opponents, opened up United at will in the EFL Cup final and should have scored at least three times given a perfectly legitimate strike was wrongly ruled out for offside in that 3-2 defeat.

Chelsea have suffered a few defensive lapses themselves recently, keeping only one clean sheet in six outings, but that hasn't eroded their aura of relentless efficiency.

An attack led by 18-goal Diego Costa and Eden Hazard in irrepressible form is proving virtually unstoppable, with the Blues winning their last seven home games by two goals or more. 

Recommended bet
Chelsea -1 on handicap
2pts 5-2 Betfair

Dan Sait is the Football Editor of the Racing & Football Outlook, out every Tuesday

Zlatan is suspended for this FA Cup quarter-final and United offer significantly less threat without their star striker
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