Champions League football is the number one objective for Manchester United and Chelsea as the two sides meet at Old Trafford this weekend.
There have been 182 meetings between the clubs but all eyes will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stuttering Red Devils after they were schooled by title-chasing Manchester City on Wednesday.
United and Chelsea are still involved in a four-way tussle with Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal for the remaining places in the top four.
Under Solskjaer’s predecessor Jose Mourinho, United had been 11 points adrift of a qualifying position before the Portuguese was released in December. After 17 games of the 2018/19 season, Mourinho’s side had racked up 26 points (1.5 points per game). Since then, United have raised that tally to 64, across a further 18 fixtures (2.1 ppg) with the majority gained from a brilliant morale-boosting initial 12 league game unbeaten run under the Baby-Faced Assassin.
However, since Solskjaer’s appointment on a permanent basis at the end of March, United have won just two games in all competitions, both being narrow home successes against Watford and West Ham United.
United’s faltering form offers encouragement for Maurizio Sarri’s visiting Chelsea side who have a poor record against fellow ‘Big Six’ sides under the Italian in his inaugural season at the helm.
Chelsea have a woeful record against fellow top six sides, conceding 13 goals compared to just one scored.
Their winless streak away from Stamford Bridge against the top six dates back to August 2017 when the Blues were under former manager Antonio Conte and beat Tottenham 2-1 at Wembley.
This weekend, however, Sarri can register Chelsea's seventh Premier League win at Old Trafford.
In doing so, Chelsea would not only solidify their position in the top four but Sarri will become the sixth Blues manager to gain a league victory at the Theatre of Dreams and the fifth to do so in his first league attempt at the ground with the London club.
Sarri, who has endured a topsy-turvy season since moving from Napoli to become the 13th man at the helm in the Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea, would be following in the footsteps of a distinguished group.
Glen Hoddle did it with a 1-0 win back in March 1994, his successor Ruud Gullit following up in his first season with a 2-1 win in November 1996. Claudio Ranieri, taking over from Gianluca Vialli, managed a 3-3 draw less than a week into his tenure in September 2000, but then got his win at Old Trafford 14 months later in a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
Jose Mourinho impressively did it in his first spell at Chelsea, following soon after from a League Cup victory at Old Trafford on route to lifting the trophy. His side produced a 3-1 turnaround four months after that semi-final in May 2005.
Chelsea again had a four-year wait for their next victory at United’s ground in the league. Carlo Ancelotti bagged a 1-0 win courtesy of captain John Terry less than a quarter of an hour from time in November 2009.
The most recent victory for Chelsea away at United came in 2013 - Manchester United’s last title-winning season. A current Red Devil, then in Blue, Juan Mata scored the decisive goal allowing interim boss Rafa Benitez to snatch all three points in one of his final games in charge. .
This season, the previous encounter certainly provided the excitement and hard-bitten fingernails for both sets of fans; a Ross Barkley equalizer in the dying moments in a 2-2 thriller back in October. Expectations will be high for this encounter, with both Solskjaer and Sarri having a lot on the line, wary of the advantage either side can provide the other in suffering defeat.
Manchester United versus Chelsea kicks off at 16:30 (GMT) on Sunday 28th April 2019.