Chelsea and Manchester United Square Off in a Crucial Premier League Matchup

With both teams near the top of the table, the winner of this week's matchup between the Blues and Red Devils will be right in the thick of the title race.

Chelsea and Manchester United find themselves just off Manchester City's lead eight games into the season -- with Chelsea three points back and the Red Devils five points off the pace -- and both will be looking to seize the opportunity for a win against a fellow contender. Both sides have hit a few bumps in the road, but a decisive victory would be a signal of intent for the title race.

United are coming off back-to-back draws, the latter of which came away to Liverpool. The Red Devils looked happy with a point from the start, setting up conservatively, and it'll be interesting to see if manager Jose Mourinho will attempt to get more in a homecoming trip to Stamford Bridge. "The Special One's" two stints in blue will certainly add some extra tension to the importance of this match.

And speaking of Stamford Bridge, Chelsea and boss Antonio Conte also have a lot to gain. Rebounding from losses to Arsenal and Liverpool, Chelsea have won their last two and will also look at their home fixture against top-club rivals United as a key opportunity for a result.

Team Points (Standing) Recent Form Goals For/Against Goal Differential
Chelsea 16 (5th) W-W-L-L-D 15/9 +6
Manchester United 14 (7th) D-D-W-L-L 13/8 +5

With the influx of managerial pedigree in the Premier League this season, an enticing detail of this campaign has been head-to-head tactics and records. What's most interesting about Sunday's battle, however, is the lack of precedent between Conte and Mourinho.

They've battled just once, back in 2009 when Mourinho's Inter Milan took a point away at Conte's Atalanta. Considering the difference in talent and size of those clubs, this feels like the first proper battle, with both sides boasting top-tier talent and aspirations for the title and a return to the Champions League.

For United, the keys will be to win possession in the midfield and to stay composed in defense. Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba seem to be developing into the preferred pair in the center of the pitch. While the polarizing Pogba has played decently since his arrival, turning a game like this on its head would silence some critics and prove his quality.

Eric Bailly, Daley Blind and Chris Smalling are all quality defenders, and at times, United's back line has been very tough to crack. The side ranks near the top of the league in most key defensive stats. The Red Devils have three clean sheets, tying for the league lead, but they've allowed eight goals in their other five games. Perhaps locking down the blistering Liverpool attack this past week will start a run of consistency.

Team Average Shots Against (rank) Clean Sheets Goals Allowed (rank)
Manchester United 9.1 (3rd) 3 (T-1st) 8 (4th)

The Blues have had some defensive issues of their own. Chelsea boasts three cleans sheets, as well, but they have conceded nine goals in the other five games, which included the aforementioned 3-0 drumming from Arsenal. Conte switched to a three-man defense for that game, and it has resulted in two consecutive clean sheets after that the loss to the Gunners.

In the attack, the key cogs for Chelsea are forward Diego Costa and attacking midfielder Eden Hazard. Costa, a 28-year-old, is hitting similar form to his first season at Stamford Bridge, scoring on six of eight occasions and bagging seven goals and two assists in the process. He's leading the league in goals despite ranking just 15th in shots per game (3.0).

Player Appearances Goals Shot Accuracy Assists Pass Accuracy
Diego Costa 8 7 70% 2 73%

Hazard has three goals to his name, but he has yet to record an assist. It's a troubling trend that started last year. After tallying seven and nine assists, respectively, in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons, Hazard had just three helpers last season. His rating was a career-low last year, but he owns a respectable 7.59 rating this campaign, although it's still a ways off his pristine 8.4 rating from his outstanding 2014-2015 year.

Sunday will see Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge after his disastrous exit last season, and both clubs will be battling for points in hopes of returning to the top of the pecking order. Almost always an exciting and highly-anticipated battle, United versus Chelsea is currently a pick 'em, per Bovada, and it ought to be both entertaining and pivotal.