Chelsea and Manchester United go head to head on Saturday in opposing form, with the Blues having yet to lose a game this season, unlike United’s record of three losses in eight Premier League games.
That poor start has seen United fall seven points behind Chelsea, who are level on points at the top of the table, with several of Maurizio Sarri‘s star players having hit top form at the start of the season, in contrast to Jose Mourinho‘s struggling side.
Here’s a look at the key players from each side who will be looking to lead their teams to victory.
Eden Hazard v Paul Pogba
Finally liberated after five seasons of playing under defensive managers, including just over two seasons with Mourinho, of course, Eden Hazard is thriving at Chelsea.
He’s the season’s first player to hit the double-figure mark for goal involvements in the Premier League, with seven goals and three assists. That goals tally has him atop the scoring charts, an unusual position for Hazard. he’s never hit more than 16 in an entire league season in England, but he’s well on course to smash that mark.
Hazard has a mixed record against United, but on this form he’ll be tough to stop – even for Mourinho.
While Hazard has blossomed into one of the world’s best after a successful World Cup, Paul Pogba, who actually won the trophy in the summer after several strong displays for France, has been struggling again for his club. Though his record of four goals and three assists in ten appearances across all competitions is a decent return for a midfielder, he’s had a public falling out with Mourinho and put in a couple of below-par displays.
However, he was vital in United’s comeback from 2-0 down against Newcastle in their last league game. A similar display would silence the critics, if only temporarily.
"You cannot miss in Eden Hazard, they say he is on fire, this time he is probably the best player in the Premier League right now." 🔥
Can the @ManUtd midfielder get the better of him? 🇧🇪
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 19, 2018
Sarri was forced to defend Alvaro Morata on Friday after speculation that the manager is fed up of Chelsea’s supposed lead striker and wants to bring in a replacement during the January transfer window. Though it was a public show of faith, it wouldn’t be surprising if Morata is moved on – he’s had a miserable time at Chelsea since joining last summer.
However, recent form is encouraging. He’s scored in two-straight games for the club, and there’s a chance that he leapfrogs Olivier Giroud and regains his status as the starting striker on Saturday. If he does, he’ll have a point to prove.
Morata’s name will always be intertwined with that of his opposite number, after Chelsea and United engaged in a transfer battle last summer over both Morata and Romelu Lukaku. The United striker outperformed Morata by a significant margin last season, scoring 27 goals across competitions to the Chelsea man’s 15.
But Lukaku has been in poor form for United this season, with four goals in 11 appearances. The team’s poor start to their season could have been avoided had Lukaku not missed clear, simple chances in their losses.
The Belgian scored against Chelsea last season, but he needs to do it again to quell talk about his form.
Paul Scholes: “I’m not sure you are ever going to win the league with a goal scorer like Lukaku.” [ESPN]
Is he right? pic.twitter.com/cgyW0ouVrJ
— The Peoples Person (@PeoplesPerson_) October 17, 2018
Kepa Arrizabalaga v David de Gea
Chelsea made Kepa Arrizabalaga the most expensive goalkeeper in transfer history this summer, but so far, the Spaniard has looked worth every bit of that £71.6 million fee. He’s kept four clean sheets, pulled off some excellent stops, and distributed the ball well – a key component of Sarri’s attacking philosophy.
Given that his form comes on the back of what was a relatively poor season from Thibaut Courtois, before the Belgian hit top form at the World Cup, Chelsea have seen a marked defensive improvement since his arrival.
Anyone who was worried how Courtois would be replaced is likely breathing easier now.
Meanwhile, compatriot David De Gea is keeping Arrizabalaga out of Spain’s XI, but only just, on current form. Though he’s widely recognised as the world’s best at the position, De Gea has looked a little off-colour this season, compared to the superhuman more often spotted between the United goalposts.
The stats back it up. Last season, he conceded 26 league goals when the expected goals conceded mark was 39.66; this season, De Gea’s let in 13 already, whereas the expected mark is 12.97.
He hasn’t been helped by an out-of-form and ever-rotating defence, but his own form is coming under scrutiny.