The biggest game of another packed Premier League weekend arrives at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, and with it a whole host of questions that need answering.
Manchester United and Chelsea have both failed to hit the ground running after two very different summer transfer windows, yet both retain hopes of challenging for the title in what could be the most open race we’ve seen in years.
But with just 14 points between them from nine games, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard know they must find consistency in terms of performances and results. And they must do it fast.
Manchester United and Chelsea meet at Old Trafford in the weekend’s biggest top-flight game
Both managers have plenty of options at their disposal this weekend, and it is likely that their team selections will have a major impact on how the game pans out – and who comes away with a much-needed win.
For United, the role of Paul Pogba remains a big talking point, while Solskjaer must also decide whether to throw any of his new boys in at the deep end. For Chelsea, defensive concerns must be addressed, but Lampard does have a big decision to make in attack, too.
Here, Sportsmail takes a closer look at the tactical decisions facing both bosses as they look to kick-start their league campaigns with victory over a top four rival.
THE POGBA CONUNDRUM
When fully fit and on form, Pogba walks into Manchester United’s starting XI and has a reasonable case for being regarded as one of Solskjaer’s most important players.
But while he finally seems to be over the injury issues which plagued him for much of the previous campaign, the Frenchman has flattered to deceive on the pitch.
After a dismal display in the humiliating 6-1 defeat by Spurs, Pogba has begun the last two games – away at Newcastle and PSG – on the bench. United won both, scoring six goals in the process.
Paul Pogba has found himself out of favour and on the bench for United’s last two matches
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But it’s not just Pogba’s mediocre performances which have led to him being dropped by Solskjaer in recent weeks. It’s a question of balance.
While the idea of the former Juventus star combining beautifully with Bruno Fernandes sounds good on paper, having two such attack-minded players in a midfield three hasn’t always worked.
Against Newcastle and PSG, Solskjaer opted for Scott McTominay and Fred behind Fernandes in a bid to protect his defence and give his side a more stable base on which to build from.
Although it may have been a slightly negative tactic at St James’ Park, it worked a treat in Paris this week and it would be a surprise to see the Norwegian abandon it against a side with the attacking quality of Chelsea.
For Pogba, that is likely to mean another place on the bench. If he’s in the mood, his energy and vision could be key in the latter stages of the game.
Fred (left) and Scott McTominay work together to dispossess Neymar against PSG this week
ZIYECH READY FOR ACTION
Having signed for Chelsea way back in February of this year, the last eight months must have been among the most frustrating of Hakim Ziyech’s life so far.
The Moroccan winger had his arrival at Stamford Bridge delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, and then picked up an injury in a friendly against Brighton in late August.
Hakim Ziyech could make his first start for Chelsea after two substitute appearances
He has made only two appearances since that day, coming off the bench for a total of 46 minutes in the Blues’ previous two games against Southampton and Sevilla.
Lampard did not push through a £37million deal for the former Barcelona and Arsenal target for him to sit on the bench, and a first start this weekend at Old Trafford looks a genuine possibility.
The Chelsea boss is blessed with a number of options in attack, although it seems as though a front four of Ziyech, fellow new boys Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, and Christian Pulisic could well be his preferred option when everyone is fit.
With the American bringing lightning pace down the right, Ziyech’s vision and range of passing could add a new dimension down Chelsea’s left side and provide Werner with the type of through balls he loves getting on the end of.
United are not blessed with great pace in central defence – particularly if Harry Maguire returns in place of Axel Tuanzebe – and that could be an area Lampard looks to exploit with balls in behind and over the top.
CAVANI OR MARTIAL?
‘[Anthony] Martial almost conned us into thinking he was one at the end of last season because he scored so many goals and was quite good,’ United legend Paul Scholes said earlier this month.
‘He’s started this season quite poorly again, which makes you think he isn’t. It’s misleading. That’s why I’ve kept saying we need a top class No 9.’
Although Scholes’ comments may have been a little harsh – Martial did manage 23 goals in all competitions last term, after all – he also has a point.
The Frenchman is yet to find the back of the net in nine appearances for club and country this season, despite being predominantly used as a central striker.
Anthony Martial is yet to score in nine appearances for club and country so far this season
Martial has been bailed out, to some extent, by the form of Marcus Rashford, but Solskjaer will know that he needs his No 9 back in the goals if United are to get their season back on track and climb the table.
And after resisting the temptation to take deadline day signing Edinson Cavani back to PSG earlier this week, he may consider throwing the veteran striker in against Chelsea.
The Uruguayan’s natural fitness has been hailed by those who know him best and his goal record at the highest level – and against Chelsea (three goals in eight games) – mark him out as an attractive alternative to Martial in a game of this magnitude.
He may well prove to be the ‘top class’ forward Scholes was crying out for, even at the age of 33.
Edinson Cavani has been training with United and is expected to play a part against Chelsea
CHELSEA’S DEFENSIVE DUO
Changing his defence – particularly the two central defenders – has become a theme of Lampard’s management since he took the reins at Chelsea in the summer of 2019.
Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori have all been in and out of the side, depending on results, mistakes, fitness and form.
But in recent weeks Lampard appears to be getting closer to settling on a preferred duo, with Zouma and summer signing Thiago Silva emerging as partners.
They started the midweek 0-0 draw with Sevilla and also kept a clean sheet in their last game together, a 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
Thiago Silva (left) and Kurt Zouma appear to be Frank Lampard’s first choice centre backs
Zouma was paired with Christensen for the game between those two fixtures – a miserable 3-3 draw with Southampton which saw Lampard’s defence struggle – and it increasingly seems like the former Everton loanee is best off alongside the veteran Brazilian.
The pair are able to speak to each other in French, as are full-back Cesar Azpilicueta and new No 1 goalkeeper Eduoard Mendy. Communication on the pitch, particular at the back, has always been key.
Lampard cannot afford to continue switching his centre back partnership and must give Zouma and Silva a run in the side to form a bond. The trip to Old Trafford promises to be their toughest test yet.