Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his troubled Red Devils face another stern test when they travel to Stamford Bridge on Monday evening
Chelsea could further dent Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League—and inflict another blow on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer—when the two clubs meet in Premier League action on Monday.
The heavyweight bout is the pick of the matchday action in the top-flight, as the Blues could extend their advantage over United to nine points with a win.
It would represent a near-insurmountable distance between these two Premier League giants and would leave United facing up to another campaign without a spot in Europe’s premier club competition.
Defeat is surely not an option for the Red Devils, although ex-Chelsea and United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich has moved to highlight the importance of the clash for both sides.
“They’re not far off and Chelsea will be looking at this as well, obviously with Tottenham [Hotspur] breathing down their necks, at home,” Bosnich told Sky Sports [as per the Express]. “They’ve both had the week’s break so it will be a very, very important game for both sides.
“For Chelsea and Lampard they’ll be looking to put a little bit more breathing space between them and the chasing sides,” he added. “I think it’s a massive game for both sides for both those variety of reasons.”
One fascinating subplot could be the debut of former Nigeria international Odion Ighalo; he’s yet to join up with his new teammates in Spain, but has shared videos of his workouts at the National Taekwondo Centre near Old Trafford as he prepares for a return.
Could Ighalo be the man to inspire United back into the Champions League?
The stats don’t augur well for the Canaries, who are winless in their last 13 games against the Reds, losing each of their last six home games against the league leaders.
Expect goals—none of the 359 fixtures to have been played more than 10 times in the Premier League averages more—but with Liverpool winning 33 of their last 34 league games, the chance of an upset is slim.
Last weekend, Sunday evening’s Milan derby was the highlight of the European football weekend, with Internazionale coming back from two goals down to stun their city rivals AC Milan 4-2.
This weekend, Antonio Conte’s remodelled side face another tricky assignment, as their title credentials will be tested away at Lazio.
The capital club begins the weekend in third place, having closed the gap between them and the top two—leaders Inter and reigning champions Juventus—to one point. They would even be leading the pile by now had it not been for a disappointing 0-0 draw against Hellas Verona.
That was a rare occasion in which Ciro Immobile failed to find the net; with 25 goals in 23 outings so far this term, he is arguably the league’s outstanding individual, but can Inter find a way to silence him this weekend?
Juve are also in action when they host Brescia on Sunday.
It will be intriguing how Mario Balotelli and struggling Brescia fare against Cristiano Ronaldo’s champions, with Juve having demonstrated their vulnerability with two defeats in their last three games.
For the league leaders Real, victory against Celta Vigo on Sunday would extend their winning run to six matches. They’re overwhelming favourites to do just that, even though the Galicians gave their hopes of beating the drop a massive boost with a shock win against Sevilla in their last match.
Expect Eden Hazard to return for Los Merengues following his ankle injury, although the 29-year-old is more likely to be introduced by Zinedine Zidane from the bench rather than be risked in the starting XI.
For Barcelona, a much trickier assignment awaits.
Getafe have been the revelation of the season so far, and a run of four straight wins—including last weekend’s 3-0 triumph over fellow Champions League hopefuls Valencia—have put them right in the hunt for third spot.
They head into the weekend only seven points behind Barca but have their work cut out to extend that winning streak against Quique Setien’s side, who are undefeated in 25 games at the Camp Nou.
Kaizer Chiefs will be expecting to extend their lead at the top of the table when they host Maritzburg United on Saturday evening, although Orlando Pirates will be optimistic of keeping the pressure on their fierce rivals when they take to the field on Sunday.
Bucs have won their last five matches, and are favourites to extend that run when they face a Black Leopards side who are mired in a relegation battle.
However, despite overseeing a major revival in Soweto, coach Josef Zinnbauer has downplayed talk of a late title surge.
“Now we have league games to play, we want to win as many as we can, but I cannot talk about our chances [of winning the league] because we have played more games than some teams behind us,” Zinnbauer told journalists, as per SuperSport.
“I have said this before, we need time, and we have to learn, but I am very proud of the team, the way they are responding to my system so far.”
For Mamelodi Sundowns, 10 points behind Chiefs having played a game less, their afternoon kick-off against Chippa United represents an opportunity to reaffirm their title credentials as we approach the final furlong of the campaign.
Like Zinnbauer, Downs coach Pitso Mosimane has been keen to place the pressure entirely on Chiefs ahead of the run-in.
“The league is for Chiefs to lose‚ I mean really,” he said, as per the Sowetan. “It’s in your hands now but we haven’t given up and we are going for it because anything is possible.
“Hopefully reality can happen on the other side also to make the league race interesting,” he concluded. “I think you want the league to be interesting‚ let it be the last two games and it’s equal on points.”
Full SuperSport Fixtures
Friday 14 February
Stellenbosch FC vs SuperSport United SS4 (SA) & SS10 (ROA) Kickoff at 19:30 (CAT)
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Leicester City SS3 Kickoff at 22:00 (CAT)
Saturday 15 February
Mamelodi Sundowns vs Chippa United SS4 Kickoff at 15:30 (CAT)
Barcelona vs Getafe SS7 Kickoff at 17:00 (CAT)
Kaizer Chiefs vs Maritzburg United SS4 (SA) & SS9 (ROA) Kickoff at 18:00 (CAT)
Norwich vs Liverpool SS3 Kickoff at 19:30 (CAT)
Valencia vs Atletico Madrid SS7 Kickoff at 21:45 (CAT)
Sunday 16 February
Black Leopards vs Orlando Pirates SS4 Kickoff at 15:30 (CAT)
Juventus vs Brescia SS9 (SA) & SS8 (ROA) Kickoff at 16:00 (CAT)
Arsenal vs Newcastle SS3 Kickoff at 18:30 (CAT)
Lazio vs Inter Milan SS9 (SA) & SS8 (ROA) Kickoff at 21:45 (CAT)
Real Madrid vs Celta Vigo SS7 Kickoff at 22:00 (CAT)
Monday 17 February
AC Milan vs Torino SS9 (SA) & SS8 (ROA) Kickoff at 21:45 (CAT)
Chelsea vs Manchester United SS3 Kickoff at 22:00 (CAT)