Gary Neville’s Chelsea title prediction from late 2020 has aged well but could bode badly for managerless Manchester United ahead of their crunch clash on Sunday
United currently trail Thomas Tuchel’s side by a staggering 12 points following their abject start to the season. Their dismal form has led to them being pummelled in back-to-back home league games by bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City recently.
On paper, United could hardly have picked a worse team to play against right now than a Chelsea side that has gone from strength to strength since Tuchel was appointed back in January.
And even though Neville’s comments talking up Chelsea’s hopes of challenging for the title last year were made before Tuchel had replaced Blues legend Frank Lampard in the dugout, they’ve aged incredibly well.
“I think Chelsea have got more of a chance to win the league than Spurs because they have got N’Golo Kante, Thiago Silva, and players who could navigate them to it,” said Neville back in December last year just weeks before Lampard’s dismissal.
“The club always wins trophies under Roman Abramovich, there is something there. They have got good, talented players and they also do the ugly side of the game as well, so they are a real threat.”
Since Abramovich bought the club in 2003, the Blues have enjoyed the best spell of sustained success in their history – and they looked a good bet to end their five-year Premier League drought.
Tuchel has taken Chelsea to another level since arriving at Stamford Bridge back in January and they’ve looked by far the most ruthlessly efficient team in England this season.
Only Liverpool (35) have bettered the 30 strikes Chelsea have racked up already in the league this season and their incredible defensive record has seen them give up just four goals in 12 games this season.
In fact, Tuchel’s record of 24 goals conceded in his first 50 games in charge at Stamford Bridge is a Premier League record – and they already look destined to go on and smash their record for fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season which was achieved under Jose Mourinho back in 2005.
But despite shoring up Chelsea’s leaky defence, Tuchel has ensured that the Blues haven’t lost any of their potency upfront. You could hardly accuse Tuchel’s side of being defensive; you only have to look at the number of goals (13) scored by defenders in the league this year for evidence of that.
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Given how comprehensively United were taken apart by Liverpool and City, it would be remarkable if Sunday’s game failed to see anything other than lightning strike thrice for United.
But, regardless of the result on Sunday, United should be modeling both their short and long-term approach on Chelsea.
Just like Chelsea did a year ago, United have dispensed with the services of a club legend who had reached his ceiling in the dugout.
Although some may dispute it given United’s form this year, Solskjaer did, on the whole, do a good job at Old Trafford. The doom and gloom that had engulfed the club following Mourinho’s bitter reign feels like a lifetime ago, which is a testament to the work that Solskjaer did during his tenure.
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But it now needs someone else to take that work on to the next level. Tuchel at Chelsea is the perfect example of what could happen at United if they get their next appointment right.
Even though Neville predicted that the Blues were more likely than others to mount a title challenge last year, they still felt a long way off under Lampard – although Chelsea were in a much healthier position then than the one that United currently find themselves in.
They’ve come a long way since Tuchel took charge; something that Manchester United can take heart from.
When it comes to appointing an interim manager, Chelsea aren’t a bad act to follow either.
They’ve enjoyed success with both Roberto Di Matteo and Guus Hiddink in that role in previous years; even if the situation with the former did become something not too dissimilar to United’s recent conundrum with Solskjaer.
But before that, caretaker boss Michael Carrick needs to try and concoct a formula to spare United from another big-game humiliation on Sunday.
Temporary or not, he could hardly have wished for a tougher first game as Premier League boss.