Bruno Fernandes was jolted by his demotion against Villarreal and played with equanimity when he came on. His introduction was key to United’s strong finish in Spain and ended Villarreal’s dominant first hour.
Donny van de Beek’s subdued performance in Spain should not necessarily result in him being dropped but reintroducing Fernandes to the starting XI would be sensible. Inexplicably, it never occurred to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that dropping a player could act as a wake-up call they would respond to.
The Tuchel factor
It is a particular pity Ralf Rangnick is not available to coach United against one of his disciples. Thomas Tuchel would have been a worthy United manager and, irrespective of their form at the time, it was perverse United stood by Solskjaer and did not move for the German after he was sacked by Paris Saint-Germain last December.
Tuchel is the coach of the year. Parachuted into Stamford Bridge, he masterminded Chelsea’s Champions League triumph and they are still top in an intensely competitive Premier League with a rounded squad.
That Chelsea have stayed there with Romelu Lukaku unavailable for the last month is further evidence of Tuchel’s emphasis on the collective. With every player at their optimum, United have a better first XI than Chelsea. It does not quite work out like that and the key difference is in the coaching department. That is why Chelsea are 12 points clear of United.
Back to a back three?
It would be brave of Carrick to eschew a back three to counter Chelsea, who have thrived in the formation since Tuchel stomped onto the Cobham training pitch in January.
United are still without Raphael Varane and their results with three centre-backs against Tottenham, Atalanta and Manchester City were mixed. The formation had been abandoned by the time of the restarts against Atalanta and City.
The formation could flourish with a tweak from 5-2-1-2 to a 3-4-3, although that would potentially not leave any room for Fernandes. Wan-Bissaka is a wing-back with clipped wings and Chelsea have midfielders better equipped for the battle.
Can Sancho kick on?
Whatever United’s formation, Sancho is likely to start after his best performance for the club. A night spent entirely on the right wing elicited an effective performance from a right winger.
The 21-year-old now has to transmit that form to domestic competition against his boyhood club. Chelsea will be without Ben Chilwell but Marcos Alonso excels as a wing-back, so Sancho may have to do as much defending as he does attacking.
How many changes?
Carrick made four changes against Villarreal and the majority should be confident of starting at Stamford Bridge today. Van de Beek’s case is not as strong as it was a week ago and Anthony Martial is almost certain to be back on the bench.
Alex Telles could drop out to accommodate Luke Shaw, although a wing-back system could work to his advantage.