Nemanja Matic holds the key in return to Bridge
London — Chelsea’s decision to sell Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic to Manchester United raised more than a few eyebrows and the consequences may be felt when the sides clash in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Matic left the London club after three-and-a-half years to rejoin former Chelsea manager José Mourinho at Old Trafford. He has played every minute in the league since, helping United to second place in the table.
Mourinho’s capture of Matic is looking shrewder every week, prompting former United defender Phil Neville to say after Chelsea’s 3-0 Champions League drubbing at AS Roma this week that selling the Serb is the main reason Chelsea are struggling defensively.
His absence from Chelsea’s midfield will be highlighted further should N’Golo Kante fail to recover from injury. If so, Chelsea will be without both members of the central midfield pairing that guided them to the title last season. In their place, Cesc Fabregas and Tiémoué Bakayoko bring attacking qualities, but do not provide that extra cover and United’s forwards could have the freedom to threaten a Chelsea defence that has conceded 10 league goals this season.
United’s main striker, Romelu Lukaku, has gone six games without a goal and Mourinho must decide whether to play Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial together in the hope their raw speed can unsettle the Chelsea rearguard.
Earlier on Sunday, Manchester City bid to extend their record-equalling start to the campaign at home to Arsenal.
Pep Guardiola’s side have looked invincible at times, winning their past eight league games by an aggregate score of 32-5. But City have won only one of their past nine matches against Arsenal and will be facing the Gunners after a testing away trip to Napoli, where they won 4-2 in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Chelsea and United, as well as Tottenham Hotspur who welcome Crystal Palace on Sunday, will be hoping Arsenal can blow the title race wide open. A win for Arsenal would also drag them back into contention. They lie fifth, nine points off the pace.
On Saturday, West Ham United host Liverpool and manager Slaven Bilic will be desperate to avoid the 4-0 mauling they suffered in last season’s corresponding fixture.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton has urged the promoted side to be level-headed as fine margins separate them from the bottom teams.
Brighton are 12th in the league in their first top-flight campaign since 1983. The Seagulls are four points above 18th-placed Everton and a win in Saturday’s match against Swansea City could take Brighton into the top half of the table.
"I’m very conscious of making sure that everybody is very level-headed about what we’ve done," Hughton said.