Connect in the back of the net

Jose Mourinho will stick with his back five against Chelsea on Sunday.

It proved effective against Spurs last weekend, and keeping Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford central is a good enough reason to opt for it again.

Antonio Conte has shown no signs of shape change despite Chelsea’s difficulties, either. That means we will have a congested middle third, but could see this come down to a straight shootout between the wing-backs.

Antonio Valencia has been a revelation at right-back in the last few seasons, and the former Wigan man is a tailormade wing-back. He will matchup with Marco Alonso on Sunday, in a duel that could define the outcome of the match.

Valencia has a sublime delivery, and the speed to make Alonso suffer all afternoon. The Spaniard has been vulnerable defensively at times for Chelsea, and was caught out regularly by Kiko Femenia when Watford visited west London two weeks ago.

Getting behind Alonso drags Chelsea’s left-sided centre-back out wide, and immediately creates space centrally. Should Gary Cahill start again, Valencia is the most dangerous player in the Manchester United team.

Chelsea have been chaotic defensively this season. Teams have got behind their wing-backs frequently, and no player is better equipped to do that than Valencia. Cut backs from the by-line are the best means of attack for United. This duel will be critical to deciding how many opportunities of that ilk they create.

When two teams meet in similar shapes like this, the contest often boils down to which wing-back can pin the other back. If Alonso is restricted to his own half, Chelsea will be stranded and their own attacking play severely limited.

The same, of course, goes for the visitors. It is a role that requires perfect balance between attack and defence. Alonso, because of his lack of speed and Chelsea’s defensive wobbles, will risk more when he advances down the flank.

Chelsea have no option to be cautious with his play, though. Hazard benefitted greatly from Alonso last season, and needs that option to the left. The Spaniard also has the delivery to create chances for Alvaro Morata. And, given Mourinho’s extreme pragmatism in such matches, could limit Valencia’s attacking input.

Two of the league’s best full-backs will be decisive in a massive clash at Stamford Bridge. It will impact both teams in all phases of the match, and might push a manager towards the exit…

 

Written by Sam Cox

Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_

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