Feature

Deep runners and fierce midfielders: Why Chelsea can dominate Man Utd

By Alex Keble 3 Dec 2023
Sterling

Alex Keble explains how the Blues will look to emulate how Newcastle beat Manchester United

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Mauricio Pochettino was pleased with the fight his Chelsea side showed against Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday after a tepid performance against Newcastle United the previous weekend.

Indeed, before Conor Gallagher’s red card changed the shape of the contest, Chelsea had won six out of their seven aerial duels, or 86 per cent, committed twice as many fouls and made almost double the interceptions of Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton.

Chelsea v Brighton defensive stats
Stat Chelsea Brighton
Fouls 10 5
Interceptions 7 4

That’s the kind of energy and tenacity Pochettino demands – and the kind that tends to beat a hesitant Manchester United team who were torn apart by Newcastle’s aggression on Saturday, despite the close 1-0 scoreline.

Chelsea are top of the Premier League chart for through-balls, with 45, while their 305 attempted take-ons rank fourth, exemplifying the Blues' directness and forward-thinking intent.

They are also No 1 for aerial duels won, with an average of 58.3 per cent, and their 51 bookings this season is another competition-high, reflecting their forcefulness.

Put those two things together and Man Utd fans have something to worry about.

Newcastle’s victory came as a direct result of having midfield runners bursting beyond their opposite numbers, and full-backs willing to overlap while Man Utd wingers Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho failed to track back. It led directly to the winning goal.

It formed part of a wider pattern of the season for Man Utd, who have had their passes intercepted 170 times, more than anyone else in the division.

Similarly, 753 loose balls have been recovered against them, the fifth-most in the Premier League behind Everton, Sheffield United, Fulham and Luton Town.

It’s easy to imagine Chelsea following Newcastle’s lead, especially now that Reece James is back from suspension and ready to help Raheem Sterling burst beyond Garnacho.

Man Utd have lost three of their last five Premier League home matches. They are also yet to beat a side that finished in the top eight last season, suggesting issues when facing stronger opposition such as Chelsea.

If Pochettino gets a performance as fierce as Sunday’s, Chelsea can move to within two points of Man Utd.

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