The pick of the bunch in the Premier League this weekend sees Chelsea and Manchester United collide in a fascinating battle between two revived Big Six giants at Stamford Bridge.
Both clubs have found their feet under new managers of late. Erik ten Hag is finally stamping his identity on United, with Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Tottenham solidifying their status as top-four contenders, while Graham Potter is still yet to taste defeat as Blues boss and has picked up five straight clean sheets in all competitions.
Chelsea and Man United are both on the up under Graham Potter (L) and Erik ten Hag (R)
But who will come out on top when the two clubs battle it out at Stamford Bridge on Saturday?
Potter’s men currently sit one point clear of their opponents in fourth, too, meaning the Red Devils will be desperate to claim victory and climb above them into the Champions League places.
Their meeting on Saturday night therefore promises to be an intriguing one, but who will come out on top?
Sportsmail has taken a look at five areas where Chelsea and United’s showdown could be won and lost.
Big test for Blues backline
Since replacing Thomas Tuchel as head coach last month, Potter’s first big triumph at Chelsea has been shoring up a leaky defence which had conceded ten goals and kept just one clean sheet in the seven games prior to his arrival.
In the early stages of his tenure it has been a different story for the Blues. After seven matches under their new boss, they have shipped in just two goals while registering five clean sheets on the bounce.
Chelsea have been solid at the back in recent outings, keeping five straight clean sheets
But United will provide the toughest test of Potter’s management so far this weekend
However, it can be argued that Potter’s defensive formula has not yet been proven against top-class opposition, with AC Milan proving surprisingly inferior over the course of their two recent Champions League encounters.
As far as the Premier League goes, tenth-placed Brentford are the best side he has faced up to this point.
Thus, Saturday’s meeting with United represents his toughest test so far at Stamford Bridge, and the most challenging for his watertight backline.
Ten Hag’s men will almost certainly sit back and look to sting them on the counter as they did in victories over Liverpool and Arsenal earlier this season, with the pace of Antony, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford likely to pose a serious threat.
United were more on the front foot in Wednesday’s win against Spurs, though that came down to Antonio Conte being the more eager of the two coaches to lie deep and hit on the break.
That is not the way Potter goes about his business. In contrast, Chelsea will take the game to the visitors on their own turf while attempting to thwart any potential counters. How well they get on with the latter objective could be pivotal.
And with the Red Devils in a rich vein of form going forward, scoring ten goals in their last five games, it could make for a cracker on Saturday night.
The Red Devils are in a rich vein of goalscoring form and will threaten Chelsea on the counter
No Ronaldo, no problem
One man who won’t play a part in Saturday’s match is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has already been left out of United’s squad following his extraordinary tantrum on Wednesday night.
When Ten Hag opted to bring on Anthony Elanga, 20, in the final three minutes of their win over Spurs, Ronaldo decided he had seen enough; sparking major controversy by leaving the bench, storming down the tunnel and departing Old Trafford before full-time.
As a result, the 37-year-old has been dropped altogether by Ten Hag ahead of their trip to London this weekend – but it speaks volumes about his decreasing influence that they are better off without him.
In United’s three standout performances of the season so far – a 2-1 win vs Liverpool, 3-1 win vs Arsenal and 2-0 win vs Tottenham – Ronaldo played a minor role on every occasion.
He was afforded a mere 35 minutes across the first two victories, before being snubbed entirely against Spurs.
One man who won’t be playing a part in Saturday’s fixture is Cristiano Ronaldo (top right)
Ronaldo has been left out of the squad after storming off during Wednesday’s win over Spurs
But United look better without the 37-year-old, who is not well suited to Ten Hag’s philosophy
The team looks considerably more fluid and inventive when he is not there, with Rashford’s mobility upfront far better suited to the free-flowing, speed-based style Ten Hag clearly wants to impose.
Especially when United want to play counter-attacking football, the England youngster’s presence in attack is far more valuable to United right now.
Nevertheless, that is not to say having Ronaldo to call upon from the bench on such a big night is no luxury.
If Ten Hag was to find himself in desperate need of a goal on Saturday, there would have been no better goalscorer in football history to turn to than the five-time Ballon d’Or winner – which he proved by equalising in last season’s draw with Chelsea.
But the United boss will hope it doesn’t come to that this weekend if Rashford and Co are firing on all cylinders.
Potter’s formation dilemma
Just one month into his post it is already becoming clear that Graham Potter has no problems tweaking his Chelsea system when necessary to nullify different opponents.
So far the former Brighton manager has set them up in 3-5-2, 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations, all of which have brought success early on.
He has predominantly opted for a three-man defence, which inspired dominant performances against Milan, yet with Reece James out injured that shape now requires a makeshift option at right wing-back.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Raheem Sterling stepped into the position in recent outings against Aston Villa and Brentford, two matches where the Blues appeared more vulnerable than ever under Potter’s management.
If he sticks with the same formation when United come to town, deploying Cesar Azpilicueta in the wing-back slot may be the most sensible move.
Though in truth, Azpilicueta’s strongest position is on the right of a three or four-man backline. The 33-year-old Chelsea captain lacks the pace and attacking quality to excel at wing-back, so switching to a four would likely bring the best out of him.
Graham Potter has no problem tweaking his Chelsea system but has a dilemma this weekend
Reece James (third from left) being out injured means he is without a natural right wing-back
But with N’Golo Kante out too, Chelsea may lack protection in midfield if using four at the back
The only concern with doing so is how susceptible it would potentially leave them to United counter-attacks.
With N’Golo Kante on the sidelines, Potter lacks a ball-winner in the middle of the park right now, meaning his two central defenders would perhaps be more exposed than if fielded as a three tucked in between two wing-backs.
That worry alone could be too great for Potter to disregard a back three here, but placing Azpilicueta at right wing-back – or moving Ben Chilwell or Marc Cucurella over from the left – is essential if he wants to avoid the same scares Villa and Brentford provided over the past week.
How he sets his Chelsea side up is bound to have a huge impact on Saturday’s result.
Ten Hag must play it safe in midfield
In contrast, Erik ten Hag has not steered away from his much-loved 4-2-3-1 at United and it would be a major surprise if that changes this weekend.
Unless Anthony Martial recovers from injury in time and wins the Dutchman over, their attack will most definitely consist of Antony, Sancho and Rashford just ahead of Bruno Fernandes, while Diogo Dalot, Lisandro Martinez, Raphael Varane and one of Luke Shaw or Tyrell Malacia are likely to start at the back – with David de Gea in between the sticks.
Ten Hag’s only real debate is who to give the nod in the middle of the park at Stamford Bridge
Casemiro and Fred would likely be the Dutchman’s safest pairing in a two-man pivot
The only real uncertainty is how Ten Hag plays things in midfield. Casemiro and Fred have been his preferred partnership in United’s last three fixtures, all of which brought clean sheets.
Before that, Christian Eriksen had often been used in a two-man pivot and Scott McTominay also got the nod against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
While he offers a creative spark that the others lack, Eriksen should not be in Ten Hag’s thinking to start Saturday’s game at the Bridge.
The Dane is not effective enough off the ball to flourish there when up against elite opposition, as this month’s 6-3 hammering at City proved especially. Instead, using him as a weapon from the bench later in the game is a smarter strategy.
The safe choice for Ten Hag would be to stick with Casemiro and Fred in his two-man midfield, although Scott McTominay’s inclusion may not be a terrible idea either.
Should they aim to sit tight and unleash lightning counters, United need to be better protected than they were at the Etihad, and any two of the aforementioned trio would offer that.
Deploying Christian Eriksen there is too risky a proposition for Ten Hag when off the ball
Aubameyang vs Martinez
The individual battle which could prove most important on Saturday sees Chelsea forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lock horns with in-form United defender Lisandro Martinez.
Aubameyang seems to have finally hit his stride at Chelsea under Potter, scoring three goals in his last five appearances, and the former Arsenal star’s record against United is an impressive one.
In his four-year spell with the Gunners, Aubameyang faced them on eight occasions and scored four times, working out as a goal every two games.
He will hope to build on his solid form against the Red Devils this weekend, however standing in his way will be Martinez, whose stock has soared at Old Trafford after a calamitous start.
Following their 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Brentford in August, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said about the 5ft 9in defender: ‘I’m convinced this can’t work because the size of him playing in a back four. Maybe he could go left-back, maybe he could play in a back three, but in a back four, he cannot play there in the Premier League.’
A battle between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) and Lisandro Martinez (R) will be intriguing
Over the past four months, though, Carragher has been forced to eat his words, as Martinez has produced classy, resilient displays while playing in a back four against Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, proving that his miniature frame is by no means a problem.
The Argentine struggled in United’s pasting at City, but so did the rest of his team-mates and, when it’s all said and done, he was up against the best player on the planet that afternoon in goal-machine Erling Haaland.
Aubameyang will pose a different threat on Saturday. Both players are no slouches, of similar height and technically superb. Whichever one of them gets the better of this weekend’s clash could decide who emerges victorious.