In what might be considered an example of “saving the best for last”, the final tie of the FA Cup’s fifth round tonight pits holders Chelsea against a Manchester United side looking to bounce back after losing for the first time under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Blues themselves have not had the easiest few weeks; defeats at Bournemouth and by a thumping 6-0 scoreline at Manchester City have left coach Mauricio Sarri in a vulnerable position, and defeat tonight would edge the Italian closer to the exit door.
For Solskjaer, it’s another substantial test in what some have – uncharitably – claimed to be an easy beginning to his spell as the Red Devils’ manager. For sure, his side were outclassed by PSG last week, although the loss through injury of two key players by half time complicated issues for United. In their biggest previous test, however, United went to Wembley and beat Tottenham – so it would be a little harsh to suggest their improvement is all down to beating up low-quality opposition.
Bookies Backing The Blues?
Rumours that the current Chelsea squad are less than enamoured with the man in the Stamford Bridge hot seat have reached the point where it doesn’t much matter how true they are. With every defeat the side suffers – and they’ve lost three out of four in the league – the whispering about Sarri’s job security grows. When put under the microscope, the Blues have had a habit of disappointing, and that’s something from which a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, or a 5-0 scudding of Huddersfield, isn’t going to distract.
This, then, is another big public test for Chelsea’s squad unity and their willingness to work for Sarri. The bookies have them as favourites, but if you look at the apparent morale of the two sides at present, it makes Betway’s odds of 11/4 on United look hugely tempting. While United will line up without Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard in this contest, Solskjaer’s tactical approach in tough away games is flexible enough to survive their loss – and it has brought victories on their last two visits to London (1-0 vs Spurs, 3-1 at Arsenal). Although Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez has not experienced the success he’d have hoped for in a United shirt, he was born to play in this kind of set-up – his willingness to run for 90 minutes makes this an ideal game for him.
Don’t Expect A Deluge Of Goals
No matter who the manager may be – and these sides have faced each other with a gallery of different faces in each dugout over recent years – games between these sides tend to be close. A goal here or there is usually enough to decide it, and the knockout nature of this contest isn’t likely to make either manager throw caution to the wind here. This has all the makings of a tactical chess game, with Solskjaer likely to target Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker Jorginho, denying him time and space to pick passes.
In such a claustrophobic confrontation, it is easy to see matters being settled by a single goal again, perhaps the only goal of the game. Paddy Power’s odds of 19/20 on there being fewer than 2.5 goals across the 90 minutes might be the best we’ve seen for this game – not least in the absence of goal threats such as Martial, Lingard and, on the home side, Willian. While Chelsea have home advantage, there’s precious little sign of them having a Plan B when their base approach doesn’t work; with Pogba likely to pester Jorginho all night long, that could cause Sarri real problems.
Fine Margins To Decide Pulsating Battle
In the end, this game will be one of the more even contests of the extended weekend schedule, with both sides having their limitations as well as their substantial quality. This is a match that could well be decided by a late goal, an eventual breaking of the dam rather than one side hitting the front early on and defending their lead. Absolutely nobody would be shocked to see the sides heading in after the first half still locked at 0-0 (indeed, that could easily be the state of play after 90 minutes).
In that light, an interesting offer can be found at the Betfair sportsbook, with the bookmaker offering odds of 8/1 on the Draw/Manchester United bet in the HT/FT market. This is a very attractive bet in any match like this; as the game goes on and legs get tired, an individual mistake become simultaneously more likely and also potentially more impactful, and given how United are likely to set up, they seem marginally the more likely to force and exploit such an error. Perhaps just as importantly, the odds are more attractive than the Draw/Chelsea bet in the same market, which is presently 4/1.
Bets of the Day
Fewer than 2.5 goals in match (19/20, Paddy Power); Draw/Man U (8/1, Betfair Sportsbook); Man U to win (11/4, Betway)