Efficient Chelsea could overpower United at Old Trafford
Mourinho set for more frustration
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Dropped points against Burnley, West Ham, Stoke, Hull, Bournemouth, West Brom and Everton (twice) mean United kick off the reverse fixture at Old Trafford four places and 18 points behind Chelsea.
Tottenham's win over Bournemouth cut the Blues' lead to four points, keeping the leaders up to their work, and that could be bad news for former manager Jose Mourinho.
Once the darling of Stamford Bridge, Mourinho hasn't enjoyed his trips back to west London with United. Pedro's goal after just 30 seconds sparked Chelsea's 4-0 win in the league and they claimed a more prosaic 1-0 victory over the ten-man Red Devils in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
United's propensity for drawing games they should have won continued in the Europa League on Thursday, when they conceded a late equaliser to Anderlecht in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.
That frustrating trip to Belgium wasn't the ideal preparation for a clash with the title favourites, whose success under Antonio Conte has been based on an efficient, settled starting line-up.
Mourinho, in contrast, is still searching for the right balance at United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has delivered 28 goals in his first season in Manchester so it seems a little perverse that United's major problem has been a lack of ruthlessness.
They are 5-4 favourites for the Europa League but need a strong finish to the domestic campaign if they are to make the top four.
Mourinho and Conte are regarded as pragmatic rather than expansive tacticians but their clash at Old Trafford could be uncharacteristically open.
Conte's much-vaunted back three gave little away during the autumn and winter, keeping 12 clean sheets in 16 games between September's 3-0 defeat at Arsenal and the 1-1 draw at Liverpool on January 31.
In recent weeks, however, the Blues' defensive standards have dropped and both teams have scored in their last nine league games.
The leaders still managed to win six of those games so backing a Chelsea victory and both teams to score could be a decent play at 5-1, especially considering United's desperate need for three points and their potential fatigue following Thursday's European assignment.
The bet would have copped in both of Chelsea's league meetings with Manchester City this season, as well as their home fixtures against Tottenham (2-1) and Arsenal (3-1).
Eden Hazard is finishing the season in majestic form and the brilliant Belgian could be the catalyst for an exciting Chelsea win.
Chelsea to win & both teams to score
1pt 5-1 general
Goalkeeper David de Gea should return to the starting 11 after missing the games at Sunderland and Anderlecht. Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young are back in full training and could be involved but Juan Mata will not feature again this season.
The leaders could line up with the same 11 who won at Bournemouth although Cesc Fabregas and Willian are pushing for starts.
Both teams have scored in Chelsea's last nine Premier League matches.