Fickleness and sentiment: two words tossed around aplenty in football. “Fans are fickle” is a favourite used by onlookers as a bizarre crutch to justify supporters’ sudden change of heart. Equally, pundits note that “there is no room for sentiment” in football. It’s an overused term that explains away the poor treatment of a formerly loved player or, perhaps, manager. José Mourinho might take note of both clichés on Sunday.
As the Portuguese manager prepares to take his side to Stamford Bridge this weekend he will be well aware of the fickleness of fandom. After all, Manchester United and Chelsea fans have quickly swapped entrenched positions when it comes to Mourinho. Many Reds once passionately disliked the former Chelsea coach. Blues loved him in equal measure.
Those roles have been reversed since Mourinho’s Chelsea dismissal last December. Despite guiding the west London club to three league titles across two stints at the club, some Chelsea fans disliked the way Mourinho openly criticised players, as well as his treatment of former club doctor Eva Carneiro. United fans, by contrast, were ready to welcome Mourinho with open arms after a Boxing Day defeat to Stoke City left Louis van Gaal’s position all but untenable.
Mourinho continues to divide Chelsea supporters’ opinions, while attracting unwavering support from a United base that has suffered three disastrous years in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]United and Chelsea fans have quickly swapped entrenched positions when it comes to Mourinho. After all, many Reds once passionately disliked the former Chelsea coach. Blues loved him in equal measure. Those roles have been reversed.[/blockquote]
At the same time some Blues also booed a clutch of players who they felt had betrayed their beloved manager, although Mourinho’s public flirting with United in the aftermath of his dismissal has tainted his reputation in London. The Portuguese will get a mixed reception on Sunday.
When it comes to the football, Mourinho’s focus is on United’s form in the middle of an important and challenging week, where the Reds have faced Liverpool and Fenerbahce, with Chelsea and Manchester City to come. Sunday’s game is crucial.
United settled for a point at Anfield on Monday night before sweeping aside Fenerbahce on Thursday. Most supporters would have taken that brace of results beforehand. The coming games are very different, with United now seventh, six points behind the leaders and two away from Chelsea. Should United win on Sunday Mourinho’s side will leapfrog the Londoners and move to within three of Arsenal at the top. Important, especially with some favourable fixtures coming up.
Then there’s the sentiment. In 2004 Mourinho’s first game as Chelsea manager was against United. However, as he prepares to face his former employers for the first time since taking over at Old Trafford, the United manager was reluctant to let emotion get in the way of preparations.
“I don’t have to analyse their start to the season, but when you look and you see where they are, in the middle positions it cannot be bad,” Mourinho said. “I knew that working in England, staying in the Premier League, I would, sooner or later, have to play against Chelsea and go to Stamford Bridge. The computer has decided that I have to go now, so we go.”
“When I played there with Inter, before that, I had never lost a match at Stamford Bridge because I had that home record. Now I lost already a few matches at the Bridge. Last season I lost two or three matches.”
Despite Mourinho’s poor record at Stamford Bridge during his second spell in charge, the Portuguese is aiming for victory in London once again. He must prepare well; United has managed just one win at Stamford Bridge since 2002.
Subs from: Romero, Shaw, Rojo, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Memphis, Rooney
Subs from: Begovic, Loftus-Cheek, Azpillicueta, Batshuayi, Willian, Oscar, Chaloba, Solanke
After settling for a point at Anfield on Monday, the Reds are under pressure to go for all three this time around. Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side has, much like United, flattered to deceive at times this season. However, if Mourinho can navigate his side towards three points on Sunday, then it will have been a largely positive week.
There is good news on the injury front after Luke Shaw returned to the starting team on Thursday night. Henrik Mkhitaryan is finally expected to make the bench after being left out of the squad against Fenerbahce, somewhat bizarrely. Phil Jones is out for the foreseeable future.
Antonio Valencia enjoyed another excellent game at Anfield, nullifying any threat from Liverpool’s left. Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling will once again start in the centre back positions. Smalling was withdrawn at half-time on Thursday with one eye on Sunday, although both players will need a rest at some point. Indeed, it would surprise few if Mourinho makes a move for another centre back in January. Daley Blind continues at left-back after another good display on Monday.
Mourinho has a decision to make in midfield though. Marouane Fellaini did his job well at Anfield, while Ander Herrera was phenomenal in the centre of the park. Paul Pogba was not effective at Liverpool, but excelled in Europe, while Michael Carrick also played very well on Thursday.
Mourinho is likely to go with a three-man midfield to contain Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation, probably meaning there is no place for Juan Mata. Herrera, Fellaini and Pogba will likely start, with the Frenchman asked to sit deeper than he did at Anfield in the hope that United’s wide players can support their striker more effectively than on Monday.
Further forward, United must exploit Chelsea’s narrow defence. Wayne Rooney did not excel against Fenerbahce and will likely be replaced by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although the Swede is struggling for goals. In wide areas Ashley Young may be replaced by Anthony Martial, with Marcus Rashford likely to see off competition from his friend Jesse Lingard on the right.
Either way, victory at Stamford Bridge is all that counts. Mourinho is the master of that, although he will likely get a mixed reception during the game.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: S Child, S Burt
Fourth Official: A Marriner
Chelsea 1-2 United