Man Utd need a point to secure Champions League football as they host Chelsea
Needing just the one point to guarantee Champions League football for the 2023-24 season, Manchester United‘s final Premier League home game of the season takes place on Thursday, as Chelsea make the trek to Old Trafford.
The Red Devils are on the brink of sealing a top-four finish thanks to their 1-0 win over Bournemouth last weekend, while the mid-table Blues lost by the same scoreline to newly-crowned champions Manchester City.
While one Brazilian in Roberto Firmino managed to keep Liverpool’s Champions League hopes alive in the Reds’ draw with Aston Villa, his compatriot Casemiro came up with a moment of individual brilliance to keep Man United in the driving seat for a top-four finish at the Vitality Stadium.
Sitting three points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, the fourth-placed Red Devils will assure themselves of a place in next season’s Champions League – where Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle United will also be present – should they avoid defeat on Thursday night, but they will get a second bite of the cherry against Fulham on Sunday if they fall short.
EYES ON FA CUP FINAL
Ten Hag will no doubt aim to wrap up a top-four finish on Thursday before attention turns to their FA Cup final date with bitter rivals Manchester City, and despite a few frailties on the road, Man United have been the toughest nut to crack at home in the current Premier League season.
Indeed, the Red Devils have conceded just eight times at the Theatre of Dreams in the 2022-23 top flight – winning each of their last four without shipping a goal and keeping clean sheets in each of their last six – which certainly does not make for pleasant reading for a goal-shy Chelsea crop.
FRANK LAMPARD‘S INJURY-HIT TEAM
With Arsenal’s defeat to Nottingham Forest on Saturday confirming Man City’s status as champions, Pep Guardiola sent out a second-string team onto the field to meet Chelsea, but Frank Lampard‘s injury-hit charges could not spoil the Citizens’ celebrations.
Chelsea’s perennial injury problems are not letting up as the season draws to a close, as the Blues have suffered a devastating blow with defender Benoit Badiashile, who could supposedly be facing a few months out with a groin problem sustained in training last week.
Mason Mount (pelvic), Ben Chilwell (thigh), Armando Broja (knee), N’Golo Kante (groin), Marc Cucurella (thigh), Marcus Bettinelli (unspecified) and Reece James (thigh) also take up beds in the well-occupied Chelsea treatment room, and it remains to be seen if Mateo Kovacic will be given the green light to play on Thursday. On a brighter note, Kalidou Koulibaly was fit enough to come off the bench on Sunday following a thigh issue.
Manchester United on the other hand is forced to cope without Marcus Rashford with a leg injury before coming down with a bug. Rashford is expected to fight off his illness in time to start at Old Trafford, but all of Lisandro Martinez (foot), Tom Heaton (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee) and Marcel Sabitzer (knee).
Chelsea certainly deserve credit for holding Man City to just the one goal at the weekend, but the Citizens’ weakened team and title celebrations may have played a part in that, and prolonged inconsistencies in the final third should prove costly at Old Trafford.
With Man United proving to be an incredibly stingy defensive unit in front of their own fans, Ten Hag’s side should have no problem ending their spate of draws in this fixture to return to the promised land of the Champions League.