Football Features

Ronaldo’s toughest test? Under-the-radar stats & subplots for Chelsea v Man Utd

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:05, 26 November 2021

Chelsea host Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday looking to keep their lead at the top of the table.

These two sides are 12 games into totally different campaigns; Chelsea are unbeaten in 10 matches across all competitions, three points clear at the top of the Premier League while also leading their Champions League group. Life has been sweet for the Blues under Thomas Tuchel, who hit 50 games in charge of Chelsea in midweek and celebrated with his 32nd victory (not including penalty shootouts).

Man Utd, meanwhile, are the Chelsea of just under a year ago. A club legend sacked with the team sitting mid-table having won one of their last five league games (or technically seven, in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s case).

But while Chelsea acted quickly to appoint Tuchel as a permanent manager, Man Utd are under the interim charge of Michael Carrick and although Ralf Rangnick’s name is being linked, that too is only on a temporary basis.

So Chelsea are favoured heavily to emerge victorious this weekend. But don’t write this game off as a foregone conclusion, as there are still so many interesting subplots to look out for.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek: Dribbling king

N’Golo Kante is a doubt for Chelsea after limping off in the first half of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League. In that game, he was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek and, with Mateo Kovacic also injured, the Englishman could be in line to start this weekend.

No one can replace or replicate what Kante brings to the pitch, but Loftus-Cheek is a frankly brilliant ball-carrier capable of navigating Chelsea out of trouble in front of their own area.

After seeing his progress halted by a serious ankle injury in 2019, Loftus-Cheek has found form once again and is the top dribbler in the Chelsea squad. The 25-year-old has completed 4.69 take-ons per 90 minutes in the Premier League and Champions League so far this season, more than any other player. With 23 in total, only Kovacic (24) is beating opponents more consistently at Chelsea in the Premier League and Champions League than Loftus-Cheek, and the Englishman’s success rate of 76.67% is better.

Loftus-Cheek’s return to form has come to the delight of Chelsea fans and former Chelsea Women and England midfielder Karen Carney believes he brings a Declan Rice-esque impact to the squad.

“Ruben had to take a step back to go on loan – to get healthy, fit and in the mental and physical shape he needs to be,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“He looked so strong. Other than maybe Declan Rice, I don’t think there’s another English player with the physicality, power and technical ability to drive through in midfield in the same way.

“Now Ruben has to stay fit and healthy, keep pushing and training every day with those around him, because he is a talent. It is frightening what Chelsea have in their resources.”

Cristiano Ronaldo on the search

Cristiano Ronaldo is a forward most defences would fear, even when he is going through a quiet patch. But he hasn’t enjoyed much success in his previous matches against Chelsea.

Across all competitions, Ronaldo has scored just one goal in 15 appearances against Sunday’s opponents. That sole strike came in the 2008 Champions League final, of course, but although Man Utd went on to win on penalties, Ronaldo also saw his spot-kick saved by Petr Cech in the shootout.

In league football alone, Ronaldo has failed to score in 10 appearances against Chelsea. This is the side he has faced most without ever scoring against in top-flight football. Against no other team has Ronaldo gone more than two league games without ever scoring.


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Victory for Chelsea = Premier League title?

Here’s one for the more superstitious readers.

Chelsea are guaranteed to go into Sunday top of the Premier League, the fifth time they have hosted Man Utd after starting the day as league leaders. Of the previous four matches, Chelsea have won three times and lost just once.

According to Opta, on each of the occasions they have won, Chelsea have gone on to lift the title.

The first match was the title-decider between Chelsea and Man Utd in the 2005/06 campaign, with the Blues blowing away the visitors in a 3-0 victory to secure the Premier League on the penultimate matchweek of the season. Four years later, the Blues hosted Man Utd in the 12th matchweek, just one earlier than this year’s tie. The Blues won 1-0 en route to the 2009/10 title, again finishing ahead of second-placed Man Utd.

The 2014/15 tie was another late one, in the 33rd gameweek as Eden Hazard scored to only goal in a 1-0 win. Three games later, Chelsea had the title secured with another 1-0 victory, this time over Crystal Palace.

That one defeat is also interesting, however, as Man Utd left Stamford Bridge with a 3-2 victory over the league leaders in the ninth gameweek of the 2012/13. And who won the Premier League that season? Yep, Man Utd.

A tough start for new managers

Michael Carrick has already taken charge of a Man Utd game (beating Villarreal in the Champions League), but he will make his Premier League managerial debut at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

The Englishman will be the 14th different manager to take charge of his first ever Premier League game against Chelsea, and the Blues have a good record of spoiling the day. Ten of the previous 13 managerial debutants have lost their first Premier League match when facing Chelsea.

So far, Duncan Ferguson is the only one to emerge victorious. He did so with a 3-1 victory as Everton boss in December 2019. The two others managed a draw.

Man Utd’s sturdy defence

It isn’t all doom and gloom for Man Utd. The Red Devils actually have a good record against Chelsea, unbeaten in seven Premier League matches, winning three and drawing four.

More remarkable, however, is Man Utd’s defensive record against Chelsea. Man Utd have kept a clean sheet in each of their last four Premier League games against Chelsea, scoring six with 4-0 and 2-0 victories accompanied by two goalless draws. Opta say the only team to keep a clean sheet in more consecutive league matches against Chelsea is Newcastle United, who managed to record six shutouts in a row between 1913 and 1919.

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