Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge live on Sky Sports this Sunday - but how do the teams' current styles and form compare ahead of the blockbuster clash?
Michael Carrick will take charge of United for the first time in the Premier League after the club sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last week and will look to end a torrid run of results that has seen the club lose five of the last seven league fixtures.
Ralf Rangnick is close to finalising a deal to become United interim manager until the end of the season, with ongoing discussions over a deal that would also see him remain at the club for two years beyond the end of the season in a consultancy role.
- Man Utd close to appointing Ralf Rangnick as interim manager
- Why Ralf Rangnick is in demand
- How 'whirlwind' Ralf Rangnick will improve Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho
However, as those negotiations rumble on, Carrick's United are set to face a Chelsea side in blistering form, commanding a three-point lead atop the table going into the weekend - having collecting 12 points more than their opponents after just 12 games played.
So, how might Carrick look to contain and overcome the Blues and what tactical nuances can we expect to see this weekend?
In the tactics dossier we reveal:
- Man Utd's favourite route to goal
- Blues' set-piece brilliance
- Team presses analysed and compared
- How Chelsea slow opponents
- United's sprinting style
- Blues' ball-playing defenders
- United's blatant weak spots
- Deep stats behind Chelsea's brilliant defence
- Reece James masterclass
Live Renault Super Sunday
What's the style?
Like Manchester CIty and Liverpool, Chelsea now resemble a well-oiled machine - consistently executing tactical superiority with devastating effect, regardless of personnel on the pitch. Recent wins against Leicester and Juventus were close-to-perfect performances.
Thomas Tuchel has drilled his side to play in a three-at-the-back system, starting in a the 3-4-2-1 in nine of the 12 games and using variations with three centre-backs in the remaining three - enabling the wing-backs to push far further forward.
Solskjaer deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation in 10 of his 12 games, opting to experiment with a back three in two other games - which paid dividends in the 3-0 win over Spurs but backfired against Manchester City, while there have been reports of disagreements between the Norwegian and his coaches over systems.
Carrick stuck with the 4-2-3-1 in the 2-0 win over Villarreal on Tuesday and might look to stick for a second game running - pitting his notoriously fast wide forwards against the Blues' rampaging wing-backs.
United's strength is in attack, but Chelsea still outgun Carrick's side in every department: goals, expected goals, shots and assists - to name just a few.
In addition, eight of Chelsea's 30 goals have come from set-pieces, of which five were scored from corners - no team has netted more from dead balls in the Premier League this season. The contrast is starker still here: United are yet to score from one.
The goals maps below shed greater light on where the teams typically score goals, with Chelsea being notably potent in the central channel of the box, while United are more dangerous from both edges of the box.
The average positions above revealed how Luke Shaw has played far higher than counterpart full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and this left-sided thrust has helped contribute to 42 per cent of United's attacks coming down this channel.
Conversely, the emergence of Reece James at Chelsea is starting to skew the Blues' thrust down the right channel, which poses an intriguing clash of cat and mouse when the two favoured flanks go head-to-head on Sunday.
The assist maps below also provide ample insight into how the teams typically feed the firing line, with Chelsea frequently working wide angles into the box.
Meanwhile, United typically create chances through the central channel, which is understandable due to their direct, counter style - only three of their assists have come from side-angled passes.
In terms of the players, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Cristiano Ronaldo have each netted four goals for United, while wing-back James leads the way for Chelsea, also on four goals - amid a serious purple patch of form.
Clash of speeds?
Drilling down deeper, advanced metrics reveal United are among the most direct teams in the division, travelling upfield at an average of 1.65m per second with the ball, while Chelsea progress at a league average of 1.4m.
However, tap on the 'direct speed against' tab below and you will see how Tuchel's side restrict the opposition's directness to a league-low 1.3m per second, on average - emphasising Chelsea's dogged midfield and effective team press.
The table below provides a raft of information on potential counter-attacking threats, dominated by Ronaldo and Greenwood - but back-in-favour Callum Hudson-Odoi also ranks among the elite.
Meanwhile, centre-back Antonio Rudiger - who is arguably enjoying his finest season to date in a Chelsea shirt amid speculation over his future with his contract set to expire next summer - has carried the ball further upfield than any other player at the club and clocked the fastest top speed of 35.8km/h.
The hard yards
In terms of running, both teams rank relatively low among other Premier League clubs, with Chelsea in 15th and United in 16th. However, both teams typically play with high lines and have superior shares of possession and therefore often have smaller areas to run in and work less on the ball.
The real difference between the teams emerges in the sprinting metrics, where United rank sixth with 1,595 to date, compared with the Blues' 17th-place standing on 1,397.
Again, the gulf here underlines the varying team styles. For context, Leeds top this metric with an absurd total of 2.054 - some 340 more than any other side.
In terms of the hard grafters, Edinson Cavani tops the table for distance covered per 90 minutes, a figure skewed by his cameo appearances but also sheds light on his impact from the bench and tireless work ethic.
Meanwhile, Timo Werner and Jadon Sancho are the primary Chelsea threats for bursting from the blocks. Use the interactive table below to explore the players' running stats yourself.
- No time for sentiment now at Man Utd
- Download the Sky Sports Scores App: Apple | Android
- The UK's No 1 scores app: Find out more
The passing numbers suggest Chelsea will emerge with the lion's share of possession this weekend, averaging at 58 per cent compared with United's 53 per cent.
The Blues' slower, more patient style is further underlined by completing nearly twice as many build-up attacks as their upcoming visitors this term, defined as open-play sequences that contain 10 or more passes and either ends in a shot or has at least one touch in the opposition box.
The passing networks below highlight how Chelsea's centre-backs combine closely with midfield and the growing influence of James down the right flank.
The regular deployment of a false nine, to drop deeper and eke opportunities from movement in and around the box, produces a deceiving disconnect with team distribution, which can also be seen with teams like Manchester City and Liverpool.
Meanwhile, United's front three behind the main striker effectively form a front four with a higher number of passing combinations occurring down the left flank.
Indeed, the graphic below shows how this plays out in passes by zones on the pitch, with United attempting the majority of their distribution down the left channel, midway inside the opposition half.
The majority of Chelsea's passes come from deeper areas and the interactive table below explains why, with centre-backs Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Andreas Christensen attempting more passes than any other player at either club.
In terms of penetrating passes into the opposition box, Fernandes surpasses the full-backs by a long way - which underlines how United rely on his creative talents from central areas.
The other top entries are skewed from varying degrees of game time, but Carrick will almost certainly be hatching a plan to nullify wing-backs Alonso and James - with the former likely to start after Ben Chilwell's injury against Juventus.
Who presses hardest?
Chelsea rank fifth in the division for total team presses this term, according to advanced data published by Stats Perform. That figure is notably impressive given the Blues typically have a very high proportion of possession.
The only teams to out-press the Blues are Burnley, Leicester, Everton and Arsenal. Of those, only Leicester have averaged above 50 per cent possession, and only just, with 50.88 per cent.
In contrast, United rank down in 14th - despite averaging with a lower proportion of possession than their upcoming hosts.
The graphic below shows how Chelsea are effective at collecting loose balls and reclaiming possession down the central channel of the pitch, particularly just inside their own half and down the right flank.
Meanwhile, United are far less effective than Tuchel's side in central areas but reclaim the ball most frequently down the left. However, the dearth of recoveries in the middle of the pitch has posed issues due to United's high line.
Only Liverpool and Manchester City have played a higher defensive line than United this season, with their passing sequences typically starting 42.6m from their own goal. With this style of play, counter-pressing and reclaiming possession is crucial to prevent counter-attacks.
The graphic below reveals how Manchester United's solidity map flags red warning signs just inside the opposition half - indicating an area of notable permeability for opposition teams to play through.
In contrast, Chelsea are most solid from the front (blue stripes) and taper off only slightly moving back to goal - emphasising a solid band of mettle in the centre of the park.
Given United's high-line style, losing second balls and the counter-press in this area leaves the team exposed to counter-attacks - in addition to simply losing possession in advanced areas which yield greater potential for reward.
To compound matters, United have also ceded possession close to their own goal more than any other team in the division, with the opposition winning 109 high turnovers against them this season.
Locating those turnovers on a map reveals the majority of these have occurred down United's right channel, but is also a prevalent problem down the left.
In terms of the players, Fred averages more pressures per 90 minutes than any other player, followed by team-mates Fernandes and Cavani, while Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic and Jorginho lead the way for Chelsea.
A useful way to pinpoint areas to exploit is by looking at how many times a player has been dribbled past. Here, Hakim Ziyech, Fred, Jorginho and Timo Werner appear prone to being bypassed. However, a player can often only block avenues for an advancing opponent with an effective team press.
What about the defence?
The graphic below shows where the real gulf between the teams currently lies. Chelsea have kept a league-high eight clean sheets and conceded a league-low four goals - a staggering achievement, particularly when factoring two of those goals were penalties.
If you use the dropdown menu below to select 'shots faced', you will see Chelsea have achieved this despite facing 40 shots more than Manchester City - suggesting goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has played a pivotal role.
Indeed, expected goals data reveals the 29-year-old has prevented a league-topping 3.7 goals, based on the quality of chances fired against him.
|Keeper||xGoT||Conceded (ex. OG)||xG prevented|
|David de Gea||18.6||19||-0.4|
Drilling down deeper, the maps below show where all goals were conceded from and underlines the stark contrast between the teams, with two penalties overlaid on the same spot in the Chelsea visualisation.
Meanwhile, United appear to ship more goals from shots fired down their left channel.
In terms of the passing sources for those goals, United seem to concede primarily from passes played through central areas, while Chelsea have conceded so few that their map is insignificant.
Another key area for Carrick to address is the habitual errors creeping into United's defence.
United currently share the unwanted title of being the league's most error-prone team with Arsenal - having made 11 errors leading to shots, of which three resulted in goals. Additionally, these areas have also occurred down the problematic left side.
Man Utd errors leading to shots
|David de Gea||2|
Despite United's left-sided issues, the graphic below reveals opposition teams have actually tended to focus attacks marginally more frequently down their right channel, typically facing the likes of Wan-Bissaka and Victor Lindelof.
Who's red hot?
Here rests the proof in the pudding. Factoring both teams, nine Chelsea players lead the way for current form in the Sky Sports Power Rankings, which award points to players based on position and 35 matchday statistics.
Based on this objective formula, Chelsea wing-back James is currently almost twice as hot as any other player from the teams, followed by injured counterpart Chilwell. Virtually the entire Chelsea team complete the top 10, disrupted only by Ronaldo representing United.
- How Reece James is evolving under Thomas Tuchel
- Reece James tops Power Rankings
- How are the Power Rankings calculated?
- Premier League top scorers and assisters
A notable quirk of the wing-backs under Tuchel is how they drift infield and also pick up positions in the penalty area. The graphic below highlights how James achieves this, while Alonso was effective with similar movements earlier this season before losing his starting place to Chilwell.
Chelsea are masters at congesting central areas and pack the area further still with wing-backs when in possession. The striking tactic would be to out-press Chelsea and counter down wide channels, which is ultimately the United way.
However, the team press has misfired this season and Carrick is likely to try and build upon promising signs of solidity in the 2-0 win over Villarreal, while shoring up the shaky left channel will remain a priority.
United will also need to be brave in wide areas to avoid having their full-backs dropping too deep for too long, while being prepared to burst from the blocks on transition.
Finally, Fernandes will need to free himself from midfield shackles to produce his customary incisive passes to eke opportunities for compatriot Ronaldo to land a blow with his own world-beating instincts.
Of course, the game could also mark the return of Romelu Lukaku for Chelsea after a month on the sidelines with an ankle injury. United's defence will need to produce stellar performances to keep this Chelsea team at bay...
Now it's your turn...
Use the interactive graphics below to explore team and player statistics in the Premier League this season...