Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

Although Manchester United passed their first crucial test of the week, securing an excellent 2-0 win over Villarreal in the Champions League, there is an even tougher one on the way this weekend.

United travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to take on Premier League leaders Chelsea, who are desperate to end a fierce race with just one win in seven league games.

Michael Carrick’s opposite number Thomas Tuchel has turned the London kit into a formidable unit since his arrival, and they have so far tasted defeat in just one of their first 12 league meetings.

Their impressive 3-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday meant they have now found the back of the net 14 times across their previous four league games, while only closing once at the other end of the pitch.

They were on fire again in midweek, beating Juventus 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League.

One of the goal scorers in that match was the English right-back Reece James, who is fast becoming one of the division’s best and most dangerous in his position.

Across his last 14 appearances, the 21-year-old has recorded remarkable ten goal contributions.

Although he is a right-back of trade, Tuchel’s system means that his wing-backs get plenty of freedom of attack, something that clearly benefits both James and his team.

“I think this statistic (goals scored) will look a little different if you interpret wing-backs more as midfielders, because if you play in a back-three, it’s not really a back position, more a midfield position. ” Bavarian told the official Chelsea website earlier this month.

“I do not want to call them defenders, but they have to defend for a few moments as defenders, but they are more free to attack the opponents’ field than they are in the role of back.

“So it’s necessary for them to be included and we bring them to the box at the end of our attack and increase the goal threat. I’m happy when we create chances and I’m happy when we have five or six players in box to be dangerous. “

James’ success is largely due to his ability to get late into the field, often unmarked, and face cross play from the opposing flanks. This is a threat United will have to be aware of and find a way to lift.

James lurks unmarked in the Newcastle box in the build-up to his goal late last month

Immediately, United can be vulnerable. Whether Carrick chooses to start Alex Telles again, or go with Luke Shaw, in cross situations like the one above, both will most likely be preoccupied with the striker already in the field.

A repeat of the 4-3-3 system used on Tuesday night would mean there would be no directly supportive winger in front of United’s left-back, potentially leaving a gap for James to exploit.

Still, it was crucial in the win over Villarreal that United adapted their form without the ball, and the way Carrick used Fred could again be the key in this encounter.

In Tuesday’s showdown, without a ball, Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho stepped in to create a flat midfield four, with Fred pushing over to the left. This move supported Telles behind him, limiting any two-on-one opportunity for the hosts.

Fred possesses strong defensive traits, one of which is good awareness of danger around him.

You would therefore anticipate on that side of the pitch in defensive situations he would be aware of the threat James may pose and protect himself from giving him space to pick up the ball in dangerous positions inside the penalty area.

The Brazilian was one of the key players behind United’s success against Villarreal, and he may prove to be so again in this second giant showdown this week against Chelsea.

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